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Puerto Rico Court Ruling on Gay Marriage Viewed Through a Political Lens

Tony Perkins, the President of the Family Research Council, has described  the recent court decision upholding Puerto Rico’s same-sex marriage ban as evidence of  a problem plaguing the Democratic Party – the minority divide on social issues.

Puerto Rico passed a law in 1999 that defined marriage as a “civil contract whereby a man and woman mutually agree to become husband and wife.”

By upholding this law, writes Perkins, “[Judge] Perez-Gimenez practiced what is becoming a lost art in U.S. courtrooms: self-restraint.” Criticizing activist judges “who could win awards for their judicial gymnastics,” Perkins concludes that “after a year and a half of watching courts elevate political correctness above the rule of law, Perez-Gimenez dared to inject a little common sense into his ruling, writing one of the most unflinchingly pro-Constitution opinions on the subject in the last decade.”

Puerto Ricans are widely viewed as being socially conservative.   In a recent survey of  Puerto Ricans living in Central Floridia, almost half described themselves as conservative regardless of their U.S. political party affiliation. Even among respondents who identified as being Democrats, 43% called themselves conservative. Only 17% of the respondents described themselves as liberal.  Survey respondents were notably conservative on social issues in particular; their views on school prayer and abortion aligned with their self-described conservative views.

The U.S. federal court decision in Puerto Rico is consistent with this social conservatism, an issue that frequently arises in discussions about resolving Puerto Rico’s status as a U.S. territory. The Republican Congress, some say, will never allow Puerto Rico to become a state for fear of adding a Democratic state and upsetting the political balance.

Opponents to this view point out that Puerto Rico’s social conservationism is a distinguishing factor.  States that voted for Obama nearly all allow gay marriage, while those that went for Romney nearly all ban gay marriage. Under this framework, Puerto Rico would be much more likely to vote Republican.

The political parties in Puerto Rico are not the same Democratic and Republican parties that dominate politics on the mainland. Puerto Rican political parties are instead focused on positions regarding the status issue: statehood, independence, and “Commonwealth.”  There is no political party advocating for the current territorial status of Puerto Rico.

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