Rand Paul shook off an awkward comment comparing same-sex marriage to beastiality and made a trip Friday to the early primary state South Carolina in the early stages of a potential presidential campaign.
The Kentucky senator, reacting to a comment from Glenn Beck wondering if the Supreme Court's decision to strike down the bulk of the Defense of Marriage Act could lead to legalized polygamy, Paul extended Beck's logic.
"This is a conundrum, and it gets back to what you were saying… whether or not churches should decide this,” Paul said. “And it is difficult, because if we have no laws on this, people take it to one extension further. Does it have to be humans?”
His office later said the comment was not meant to be taken literally.
"Sarcasm sometimes doesn’t translate adequately from radio conversation,” said Moira Bagley, Paul's communications director. “Sen. Paul did not suggest that striking down DOMA could lead to unusual marriage arrangements. What he was discussing was that having the state recognize marriage without definition could lead to marriages with no basis in reality.”
Paul will have to carefully negotiate a balancing act between the conservative establishment of the Republican party and the libertarian activists who raised him to prominence.
Many libertarians are supportive of the gay rights movement, as part of a general preference for fewer government restrictions in private life, while a June CNN poll found just 34 percent of Republicans overall favor allowing same-sex marriage.
In South Carolina Friday, Paul courted the former, attending a $1,500-a-plate luncheon in Greenville, followed by a "low-dollar" barbecue in Columbia where tickets cost $40.
He will also meet with activists from the "liberty movement" while in the state.
"There are some people from the more libertarian side who don't see Rand as libertarian enough, even though he has a more libertarian voting record than any senator in my lifetime," said Doug Stafford, a Paul political aide. "He is not a libertarian, he is a libertarian-leaning Republican."