In Private Meeting With Gay Leaders, Romney Compared LGBT Equality To Father’s Fight For ‘Civil Rights’

In The Real Romney, out today, Boston Globe reporters Michael Kranish and Scott Helman chart Mitt Romney’s devolution from embracing equal rights for gays and lesbians in 1994 and 2002 to falling in line with the anti-gay bigotry of religious social conservatives in order to win the GOP presidential nomination at the end of his term as governor. Romney’s shift betrayed his LGBT allies in the state — including gay groups who endorsed his campaigns — and frustrated those who saw Romney’s support for equal rights as an extension of his father’s strong embrace of civil rights for African Americans. It’s a parallel Romney himself made in private meetings with gay and lesbian groups, only to abandon the comparison when the time came to swoon Christian Evangelicals.

In 1994, Romney met with the Log Cabin Republicans and pledged, “I’m with you on this stuff… I’ll be better than Ted Kennedy.” Romney promised, in writing, to fight for “full equality for America’s gay and lesbian citizens,” co-sponsor a federal employment nondiscrimination act, and characterized Don’t Ask Don’t Tell as “the first in a number of steps that will ultimately lead to gays and lesbians being able to serve openly and honestly in our nation’s military.” He told Richard Weld, the group’s founder, that marriage equality was “not appropriate at this time” and insisted that marriage should be left to the states.

Romney continued his somewhat welcome embrace of gays and lesbians while serving as head of the 2002 Utah Olympics. He approved an amended workplace nondiscrimination policy that covered sexual orientation and “later reached out to Salt Lake’s gay community as part of the committee’s effort to enhance diversity in the Olympic workforce.”

As a gubernatorial candidate in 2002, Romney told a meeting of gay equality proponents that he would “support everything that it calls for in terms of recognizing unions between people. But just don’t use the M-word.” He promised to “promote tolerance and fight discrimination….[and] proposed a thorough review of state laws to see where lifelong gay and lesbian relationships were negatively affected, and how the state could change its practices to make them nondiscriminatory.” “At a very young age, my parents taught me important lessons about tolerance and respect,” he told gay equality groups. “I have carried these lessons with me throughout my life and will bring them with me if I am fortunate enough to be elected governor.” Romney’s campaign distributed flyers at a gay pride parade and he promised to strengthen laws against hate crimes, expand funding for AIDS treatment and prevention and “said he would look to both ‘protect already established rights and extend basic civil rights to domestic partnerships.'”

Still, from the very beginning there were signs that the embrace of gay equality represented a calculated attempt to win over votes in a moderate to liberal state, rather than a principled belief in civil rights. Several 1994 accounts published in the Boston Globe reported that just before launching his senate run, Romney told an audience of Mormon Church members that homosexuality was “perverse” and “reprehensible.” In 2002, his wife Ann and son Tagg “alarmed Romney’s gay supporters” by endorsing a state constitutional amendment that would have defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman and “withheld domestic-partner benefits such as bereavement leave and health care coverage from the gay and lesbian partners of public employees.” Romney “quickly distanced himself from his family’s decision, saying he did not support the proposed ban” and the measure ultimately died.

As he prepared to make a run for national office, those initial seeds of doubts blossomed into a public repudiation of the cause for equality. By 2005, Romney “adopted a wholly new tone on gay rights” and railed against the Massachusetts Supreme Court’s ruling legalizing same-sex marriage. He lobbied Congress to pass a federal amendment outlawing the practice and questioned the fitness of gays and lesbians to serve as parents. “Some are actually having children born to them,” Romney said of gay couples before a nationally televised address to South Carolina Republicans in February 2005. He also dismissed his 1994 letter to the Log Cabin Republicans as, “Well, okay, let’s look at that in the context of who it’s being written to.” Romney ultimately “sought to amend Massachusetts’s antidiscrimination laws so a Catholic adoption agency could deny placements to gay couples” and “eliminated the Governor’s Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth, a panel that funded programs for gay teens and their schools.”

Today, the former Massachusetts governor holds a more moderate positions that still fall short of his earlier advocacy. He says he wouldn’t reinstate the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy or strongly lobby for a Constitutional amendment outlawing same-sex marriage. But he continues to pander to the right, criticizing President Obama’s decision to stop defending the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act and telling a gay veteran in New Hampshire that he would support the repeal of same-sex marriage in the state. In its place, he would institute a complicated three-tier system for married gay couples.