White House race 2012: Mitt Romney and gay rights

In the first of a special two-part feature, GSN looks at Barack Obama’s challenger in the 2012 presidential election, Mitt Romney, and his LGBT record

White House race 2012: Mitt Romney and gay rights
04 June 2012

It’s officially official. President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney will meet in this November’s race for the White House.

This matchup has been penciled in all spring. After a GOP primary casting call that included mogul/TV reality boss Donald Trump, pizza man Herman Cain, Representative Michele Bachmann, former Senator Rick Santorum, and ex-House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Romney is the last candidate standing.

Although he was the only one in the primary – Santorum, Gingrich, and Ron Paul all folded their tents – ‘presumptive’ was attached to Romney’s name because he lacked the required delegates. As reported by the New York Times, 1,144 are required for the nomination. Romney passed that number by winning this week’s primary in the southern US state Texas.

For LGBT voters, Obama and Romney offer different visions and possibilities. Both have strengths, and weaknesses, when it comes to gay and lesbian issues. For the next two days, Gay Star News will focus where the two stand on gay equality. Today, we start with the GOP (Republican) nominee:

This is Mitt Romney’s second run for the White House. Four years ago, he lost, in the primary, to Senator John McCain. From 2003 to 2007, Romney was governor of Massachusetts. In 2003, the state’s Supreme Judicial Court, in a four to three decision, approved same-sex marriages. At the time, the new governor vowed he would do his best to have the decision reversed.

‘I agree with 3,000 years of recorded history… Marriage is an institution between a man and a woman, he said at the time,’ as reported by National Public Radio.

Although his machinations failed, Romney on the political stump, especially to conservative voters, proudly points his anti-gay marriage record. Additionally, he’s opened his wallet to gain the notice of voters opposed to marriage equality. As reported by the LA Times, he donated ‘$10,000 (€8,000) from his political action committee to a 2006 campaign to outlaw same-sex marriage in South Carolina. The same year, he directed tens of thousands of dollars from his personal family foundation to several conservative groups, including $10,000 to the Massachusetts Family Institute.

In 2011 August, he quickly put his name on a pledge sponsored by the National Organization for Marriage (NOM). The document calls for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, even in states where it’s been approved, and the creation of a presidential commission to ‘investigate harassment of traditional marriage supporters’. The group immediately endorsed the former governor when his major opponents stopped their campaigns.

‘We are proud to endorse Mitt Romney for President,’ NOM’s president Brian Brown said in a statement. ‘Governor Romney was an early signer of NOM’s presidential pledge which represents his commitment to the nation to take specific actions as president to preserve and protect marriage as the union of one man and one woman.’

Outside of marriage equality, Romney’s positions on other LGBT issues are nuanced. Or slippery, depending who is doing the talking (or asking). In a 2011 June debate, he called for the return of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell ‘until conflict was over’. A few months later, when in front of an Iowa newspaper editorial board, more wiggle room was proffered about DADT repeal.

‘That’s already occurred,’ Romney told the Des Moines Register. ‘I’m not planning on reversing that at this stage. I was not comfortable making the change during a period of conflict, due to the complicating features of a new program in the middle of two wars going on, but those wars are winding down, and moving in that direction at this stage no longer presents that problem.’

The nominee’s shiftiness on gay issues makes good political sense. Anyone who wants to be at the head of the Republican Party table must make sure social conservatives are content.

According to a 2011Pew Research Center study, Republicans are very cool toward LGBT issues. Only 40% of Republicans think gays and lesbians should be accepted by society. That number is even lower for those defined as conservative (35%).

These numbers are the background for the Richard Grenell brouhaha. Picked to be foreign policy spokesman for the campaign, on paper his credentials were true red conservative. He was the United States spokesman at the United Nations under four ambassadors during the George W Bush administration. But Grenell is an out gay man, and conservative Republicans voiced their upset.

‘Romney picks out [and] loud gay as a spokesman. If personnel is policy, his message to the pro-family community: drop dead,’ Bryan Fischer, of American Family Association noted on his Twitter feed.

Grenell eventually walked away from the Romney team. Depending who is telling the former spokesman is: a) victim of anti-gay prejudice from the GOP base, b) an early election casualty for a candidate wary of pushing back against the very people he needs in November, c) a spokesman who wasn’t properly vetted, or d) a combination of a, b and c.

Losing Grenell, standing firm against minimal legal protections for gay families (the presumptive nominee is no fan of civil unions), and being wobbly on DADT might cost him LGBT votes, but those votes were never Romney’s to lose.

According to New York University professor Patrick Egan, the Democratic Party has been able to depend on gay and lesbian votes in presidential elections. Egan points to exit polls, from 2000 to 2008, showing that approximately three out of four lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender voters supported the Democratic candidate.

‘Gay voters are more liberal on a host of issues as compared to their straight peers. They are reliable liberals. However, they vote on more than gay issues,’ Egan notes.

Return tomorrow to read our analysis of President Barack Obama LGBT rights record and his challenges to convince the gay and trans electorate to vote for him.

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