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MANCHESTER, N.H. - On a day when several Republican presidential candidates were touting endorsements from socially conservative leaders in Iowa and nationally, Texas Representative Ron Paul made clear why he was not getting them.

Asked about Bob Vander Plaats, president of the Iowa Family Leader group who today endorsed former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, Paul said, “He had decided I wasn’t willing to nationalize enough and I’ve stuck to my guns…. The founders were right in letting states sort out the more difficult problems.”

On both gay marriage and abortion, Paul differs from most of his Republican rivals and from much of the conservative Republican base in not urging a federal law either to define marriage or ban abortion. It is particularly in the area of social issues that Paul’s libertarian leanings are evident.

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Today, while speaking to students at Straight A Academy, a small non-traditional private school, a 22-year-old college student who would not give her name quizzed Paul about his position on gay marriage. She noted that the Constitution talks about equality and inalienable rights and asked Paul why he did not want to give every citizen access to marriage.

Paul said he did not support a constitutional amendment allowing or forbidding same sex marriage. “Why should the government be telling you what marriage is all about?” Paul said. “You might have one definition. I have another definition.” Paul said he personally thinks marriage is between a man and a woman, but regulations involving marriage should be up to the states.

“The government should not amend the Constitution to define marriage,” Paul said. “There’s no need to do that, if you accept the idea that people have a right to do what they want as long as they don’t hurt other people, and as long as they don’t force their will on others in either direction.”

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Paul advocated a secular agreement – a concept that sounded like a civil union for all couples, though he did not use that phrase. “If there’s a voluntary secular type contract versus a marriage contract, that’s an agreement. You can go to court to resolve the differences and the arguments over it,” he said.

Speaking to reporters later, Paul said, “My personal opinion is government shouldn’t be involved. The whole country would be better off if individuals made those decisions and it was a private matter.”

“People have a right to do what they want, and say what they want, and associate with the people they want. They shouldn’t be inhibited in any way whatsoever,” Paul added.

Asked what would happen to the government-conferred benefits of marriage in such a system, Paul spokesman Kate Schackai said there would be no federally conferred benefits – no tax benefits or other special rights. Issues such as hospital visitation would be left to the states, and could change along with public opinion.

Taking a similar tack on abortion, Paul told reporters that the federal government should not regulate abortions but should leave it to the states. “All acts of violence in this country except for treason and a few other things were meant to be enforced by the states,” Paul said. “I take a strong position that on social issues and economic issues, the states have the authority to be independent.”


Shira Schoenberg can be reached at sschoenberg@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shiraschoenberg.

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