But at a GOP candidate forum Thursday night at an Everett restaurant, Celis was reminded that some conservative Republicans also care deeply about social issues, including abortion and gay marriage.
Asked to state a simple “yes” or “no” position on whether he was pro-life and pro-traditional marriage, the former Microsoft engineer struggled somewhat to make his stance clear to the audience of a couple dozen activists at the event sponsored by Evergreen Republican Women’s Club.
Celis said his personal views are pro-life. But he quickly added that the law protects a woman’s right to choose, especially in Washington state.
That response appeared to confuse some in the room. Robert Sutherland, another GOP candidate for the 1st Congressional District seat, labeled Celis “pro-choice,” leading Celis to again say: “I’m pro-life. The law says a woman has a right to choose.”
Both Sutherland and Ed Moats, another Republican running in the race, touted their anti-abortion positions, with Sutherland saying he’d make some exceptions.
Moats, a former Snohomish County Council aide who said he’d vote to impeach President Obama “in a heartbeat,” noted he’s the only candidate in the race endorsed by Human Life of Washington. He said he agrees with Pope Francis “that homosexual marriage is anthropologically regressive.”
Celis, who has the backing of state and national GOP leaders, is considered the favorite to take on DelBene in November. Moats and Sutherland, both running shoestring campaigns, hope they can upend the race with grassroots support in the Aug. 5 primary.
Speaking to reporters outside the restaurant, Celis was asked to clarify his stances.
If elected to Congress, would he vote for or against bills seeking to restrict abortion?
Celis wouldn’t say: “We’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”
“What’s at stake in this election… is not that,” Celis said. “It’s all the issues that are going on with the economy and many other things.”
That’s a familiar sentiment among high-profile Republican candidates in Washington, who have sought to downplay social issues as divisive distractions drummed up by Democrats to draw attention away from the economy, national debt and other issues.
The House GOP majority in Congress, however, has continued to push anti-abortion legislation. The chamber voted in January to tighten restrictions on federal money going toward abortions. DelBene voted against the measure, along with most Democrats.
As for same-sex marriage, Celis said “marriage is something more for religion to decide. Is this marriage or not? Polygamy – is it fine or not? It’s a religion thing.”
Asked whether he voted for the 2012 initiative that legalized gay marriage in Washington, Celis said: “I didn’t, because I supported civil unions.”
Until a couple years ago, support for civil unions – but not marriage – was the official position of top Democrats including President Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton. Democrats have shifted on the issue as opinion polls showed the public changing its mind.
Downplaying the importance of same-sex marriage in the congressional race, Celis said such issues are best left to the states.