These rulings and reaction always follow the same procedure. The court says a marriage law violates the state constitution’s equal protection clause, the GOP fires off the usual boilerplate about activist judges, and the first rumblings about an amendment to overturn the decision are heard. (Iowa’s requirements are especially onerous.) The one obviously big difference this time is that it’s not only a swing state but the first caucus of the primary season — one which Huck, of course, won last year, thanks to evangelicals. And sure enough, here he is on Twitter, out of the gate fast:

Iowa Sup. Court allow same sex marriage is disappointing. All Iowans should have a say in this matter, not legislative judges.

must fight to preserve family and amend the Constitution of the United States to define marriage as one man and one woman.

A new CNN poll finds that 55 percent of Americans still oppose gay marriage, but if the California ruling and Prop 8 backlash weren’t enough to drive that number up to the sort of supermajority levels you’d need to pass the Federal Marriage Amendment, I doubt anything will. Which is to say, this is a transparent pander by Huck, just like the GOP’s push for an amendment to overturn Roe that’ll never pass either, but it’s a pander that could win Iowa for him. The question is, will the rest of the field tack right on this issue too to compete with him for social cons in Iowa or will there be a “civil unions yes, marriage no” contingent? Huck says no to both, as does Romney (now), as does even Michael Steele. I’m not sure about Palin: She supports the FMA but said something at her debate with Biden about not wanting to prevent gays from sharing domestic benefits, which could mean anything from civil unions to domestic partnerships to simple contractual arrangements. The wild card is Jon Huntsman, who caused a stir a few months ago when he came out in favor of civil unions. WaPo says that’ll hurt him. I’m not so sure:

One person who could potentially be hurt by today’s ruling is Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman (R) who has staked out a moderate position on the issue — expressing his support for civil unions earlier this year despite the fact that large numbers of Utah voters oppose the idea. “I’m a firm believer in the traditional construct of marriage, a man and a woman,” the governor told the Deseret News. “But I also think that we can go a greater distance in enhancing equal rights for others in nontraditional relationships.”

It remains to be seen whether Huntsman’s position — against same-sex marriage but in support of civil unions — is too nuanced to pass muster for social conservative voters.

Huntsman doesn’t need Iowa, which he’s almost certainly not going to win anyway. He needs name recognition, and being the moderate in a field of social cons despised by the media is a shrewd way to get it. If he goes to Iowa and makes the case for civil unions while Huckabee’s breathing fire about tradition, he may lose the battle but win the war. Exit question: Who benefits?