“President Obama promised to…heal the planet. My promise is to help you and your family.” –Mitt Romney
Social issues are not merely wedge issues. The casualties of the culture wars are the broken families destroyed by failed policy and left to wilt in ruined American homes. These cultural struggles are deeply personal for those invested, and refusing to reckon with how much real people stand to lose when politicians make bad social policy is essentially punting the long game to claim what is, at best, an evanescent victory and, at worst, a Pyrrhic loss. Families in pain still vote, and they get angrier and more focused the more they’re wronged.
It is the armor of this knowledge that underscores the push to promote Todd Akin as the symbol of a Party that would enslave the wombs of American women to the rapacious whims of strangers. That Governor Romney has disavowed this position is an inconvenient aside to be overlooked. This knowledge also fuels the simmering debate over the fate of gay Americans after January 20, 2013. A recent salvo from the Huffington Post listed five reasons gay American should be terrified of a Romney presidency. So let’s evaluate the claims.
1. Romney is adamantly against same-sex marriage
Not to belabor a zombie horse, but this was true of the Obama-Biden ticket in 2008. The question now, as in 2008, isn’t really about what marriage positions a candidate professes. Rather, it’s about how much we should weigh that position against the total package a candidate offers. It is profoundly unlikely that a viable marriage bill of any kind will emerge in the next term, and even Obama isn’t calling for federally enacted marriage equality.
More to the point, any bills that manage to survive a Senate filibuster and a tumultuous House will almost certainly earn the president’s signature, whoever that president is. Romney is a pragmatist; if his campaign is any indication, he will not squander political capital just to screw over gay people or anybody else. To put it bluntly, this election is not about gay marriage, and to pretend otherwise is to jeopardize the future of America for a leprechaun hiding in a rainbow.
2. Romney’s a flip flopper on LGBT issues – Romney publicly supported LGBT rights in his 1994 campaigning for Senator against Ted Kennedy but…Over the past decade, though, he’s moved to the opposite side of the fence and vehemently opposes LGBT rights on many fronts in this current campaign.
This point is, at best, an exaggeration, at worst, a tendentious bit of flailing. Romney has consistently stood by his support for limited domestic partnerships. This is why he opposed the broadly restrictive no-gay-unions-period Massachusetts marriage amendment—even when the Democratic Speaker of the House and Romney’s own wife and son supported it—but not the narrower don’t-call-it-marriage federal one. More importantly, Romney never said he would be more liberal than Ted Kennedy on gay rights. What he promised to be was more effective in pursuing equality for LGBT Americans. His actual words were:
“There’s something to be said for having a Republican who supports civil rights in this broader context, including sexual orientation. When Ted Kennedy speaks on gay rights, he’s seen as an extremist. When Mitt Romney speaks on gay rights, he’s seen as a centrist and a moderate. It’s a little like if Eugene McCarthy was arguing in favor of recognizing China, people would have called him a nut. But when Richard Nixon does it, it becomes reasonable. When Ted says it, it’s extreme; when I say it, it’s mainstream. I think the gay community needs more support from the Republican Party, and I would be a voice in the Republican Party to foster anti-discrimination efforts.”
This point remains broadly true today. Marriage equality would not exist in New York without the Republican State Senate bringing it up for a vote and four Republican state senators voting for its passage. Likewise, gay marriage would have been annulled in New Hampshire but for the hundred or so Republicans voting against repeal. And let’s not forget the Republicans who helped push DADT repeal over the top.
It will not be possible to achieve LGBT equality nationally without conservative support. Although he has not pressed the point lately, Mitt Romney remains committed to that support, and his position as head of the Republican Party arguably gives leverage and cover to Congressional Republicans who believe “dignity and respect” have political content.
3. Romney reportedly bullied gay classmates in high school
Wait, are you serious? We’re judging candidates for President of the United States based on incidents from high school? And you wonder why all this all this nonsense over Obama’s time at Columbia. If high school is relevant, college certainly is—you’re at least a legal adult in college. But in case it helps, Romney apologized. Now let’s move on.
4. Mitt has opposed LGBT inclusion on hate crime legislation – Mitt Romney vetoed a bill funding hate crimes prevention during his tenure as governor in Massachusetts in 2003. In fact, he cut all funds to hate crime prevention after taking gubernatorial office, which forced an anti-bullying focused Take Force to let its entire staff go. The group remains disbanded.
It’s unclear what actually transpired in this case. The only source is a Wikipedia article citing dead links. It may be referring to Gov. Romney’s disbanding The Governor’s Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth in 2006. However, that was tied to the legislature creating the functionally equivalent Massachusetts Commission on GLBT Youth. The commission has addressed bullying. In any case, a President Romney won’t overturn the Matthew Shepard Act, and his administration will prosecute crimes committed against LGBT people.
5. Romney doesn’t support same-sex parent adoption – The man with a large family – five children and 18 grandchildren – believes in denying children with no parents the chance to have a [dual]-guardian loving home if the two happen to be of the same sex. After accidentally mildly supporting same-sex parent adoption rights back in May, he retracted his statement and said, “I simply acknowledge the fact that gay adoption is legal in all states but one.” Back in 2006, Romney filed a bill in Massachusetts which allowed Catholic Charities’ adoption policies to overtly exclude same-sex couples.
This is actually two points: adoption and religious liberty. Adoption laws vary messily across the country, and it’s unclear what either president would do about this. Romney’s apparent waffling is not opposition. Moreover, his refusal to campaign against Obama’s support for marriage equality is curiously reminiscent of Obama’s refusal to actually oppose gay marriage while purportedly not believing in it before this year. Granted, Romney is no Obama. But behind the conflicting accusations of pandering, flip-flopping, and extremism is the reality of a pragmatic conservative who is playing the long game. Many staunch Republicans are broadly retreating from or outright opposing anti-gay policy, and a majority of Americans support gay unions. The pragmatist unwilling to make a campaign issue of gay marriage will not channel Tony Perkins in office with the Family Research Council well on the path to irrelevance.
To the second point, the state is not always obliged to accommodate religion, but it is not unreasonable for it to do so. You can believe in access to contraception without demanding a church violate its magisterium to provide it. You can believe a woman has the right to abortion without requiring that her bishop—or our government—foot the bill. And you can believe gay Americans have the right to marry and adopt without compelling the Holy See to blink. It does not follow from trying to compromise with Catholic charities—and thus keep them from closing—that Romney opposes gays adopting any more than tax exemptions for Scientology entail state endorsement of L. Ron Hubbard.
What matters in this election is that the president has failed. Unemployment is unyielding, entitlements court insolvency, the debt devours our inheritance, and all the administration has for us are tax returns and ad hominem. The Obama campaign has become a national analog to Ned Lamont, circa 2006—the Miltonian apotheosis of a monomaniacal fetish for being in opposition to the opponent. If that hackneyed approach couldn’t win in Connecticut for a Democratic nominee, what will it mean if we endorse it for the incumbent President of the United States?
The future is dim for any cause put in chains aboard a sinking ship. In a perfect world, Mitt Romney would be a perfect champion for equality. But as with Barack Obama in 2008, we cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good. I want to get married someday and maybe have kids, but first my loved ones and I need steady jobs and a functional economy. We’ve weathered four years of billowing hope. Now it’s time for some change.