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Schiz Romney
Do national aspirations explain the governor’s switch from nice guy to anti-gay-marriage activist?

FLASH BACK for a moment to the 2002 gubernatorial race, when Republican candidate Mitt Romney was doing everything in his power to woo the state’s gay community. At the annual Gay Pride parade, Romney passed out fliers declaring, "All citizens deserve equal rights." He told the local gay newspaper Bay Windows that he would do all he could "as governor to educate the public on the need to fight discrimination of any form." He trumpeted his support for "benefits for domestic partners," by which he meant not just health insurance but also hospital-visitation and survivorship rights. And while Romney made clear his opposition to gay marriage, he indicated a certain degree of flexibility on the issue.

At an October 2002 endorsement meeting with the Log Cabin Republicans of Massachusetts, a 300-member organization of GOP gays, Romney led attendees to believe that his anti-gay-marriage stance stemmed from political considerations. According to David Rogers, who served as the group’s president at the time, "Candidate Romney said he wasn’t for gay marriage because it wasn’t popular yet. But he didn’t seem to care one way or the other." In fact, when reporters broke the news that Romney’s wife and son had signed a citizen’s petition to put a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and domestic-partnership benefits on the November 2002 ballot, the governor condemned such bans as "too extreme."

All in all, if candidate Romney was not an advocate for gay men and lesbians, at least he seemed like someone who would protect them from discrimination.

That image stands in stark contrast to Governor Romney as today’s spokesperson for those who oppose gay marriage in the current battle over the issue. Ever since November 18, 2003, when the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) determined that the ban on civil marriage for same-sex couples was unconstitutional, the governor has done everything in his power to prevent gay men and lesbians from reaching the altar. Immediately after the SJC ruling, he issued a strongly worded statement proclaiming marriage "a special institution that should be reserved for a man and a woman" and pledged to work with the legislature to amend the state constitution to ban same-sex marriages. Since the legislature passed a proposed constitutional amendment that defines marriage as a heterosexual institution on March 29, Romney has only ratcheted up his anti-gay-marriage message.

Not only that, but the governor has kept the debate alive in the pages of the city’s dailies on a consistent basis. In the past month alone, his actions have taken on a particularly frenzied quality, as if he were consumed by preventing gay marriages from becoming reality. Just when the public and political observers think they’ve heard the last from him on the issue, Romney brings it up again. He’s had no qualms about introducing new ways to try blocking same-sex couples from marrying — or, rather, new iterations on the same theme — regardless of whether they have any chance of success. And his constant barrage against gay and lesbian couples has marred the governor’s well-crafted reputation as a centrist Yankee Republican following in the footsteps of former Massachusetts governors like William Weld, Paul Cellucci, and Jane Swift.

Romney’s emergence as something of a social activist on gay marriage has puzzled pundits and politicians alike. Once seen as a social moderate and fiscal conservative — a brilliant businessman who could rescue the state from a sagging economy — the governor is now viewed through the prism of this debate as a right-leaning social ideologue. Boston Herald columnist Tom Keane summed up the transformation in an April 28 column, in which he described Romney, before gay marriage became an issue, as "such a reasonable guy: less a conservative than a square shooter." Now, as Keane told the Phoenix in a separate interview, "He looks less like a Rockefeller Republican and more like a Pat Robertson Republican every day."

Fueling this perception are the extraordinary lengths to which Romney has gone to try to block same-sex couples from marrying in the state. First came his legally vacuous requests to Attorney General Tom Reilly to argue for a two-and-a-half-year stay of the SJC ruling so same-sex marriages could not take place until the amendment process ran its course. On March 30, in a letter addressed to Reilly, the governor did his best to define the dire consequences — or, as he put it, "the confusions and complications" — that would result by allowing same-sex couples to marry beginning on May 17, when the SJC ruling goes into effect. Reilly rebuffed the governor — twice. Since the Attorney General’s Office is the only entity that can represent the governor before the SJC, his refusal seemed to leave Romney with little recourse. But then Romney took a different tack: on April 15, he did a circle run around the attorney general by filing emergency legislation empowering a special assistant attorney general to seek a stay of the SJC ruling. After that failed, Romney turned his attention to same-sex couples from outside Massachusetts, declaring on April 24 that he does "not intend to export our marriage confusion to the entire nation." In this move, he vowed to enforce strictly a 1913 anti-miscegenation statute that prohibits nonresident couples from marrying in the Bay State if such marriages would be illegal in their home states. (On May 4, Romney eased off on requiring proof of residency in the wake of increasing protests from Boston mayor Tom Menino and municipal clerks.) But just last Thursday, the governor was at it again, threatening to veto any attempt to repeal the antiquated 1913 law. As Log Cabin’s Rogers notes, "It seems as if the governor cannot let go of this fight. It’s becoming combative at this point."

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Issue Date: May 14 - 20, 2004
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