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Romney’s Inconsistent Reaction To Massachusetts’ Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

The Los Angeles Times offers this review of Mitt Romney’s response to Massachusetts’ Supreme Court’s 2003 ruling legalizing same-sex marriage. Romney used the issue as an opportunity to build a national profile among conservative voters — and despite running on a platform of expanding equal rights for gays and lesbians, sought to defuse the Court’s decision and supported a federal constitutional constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

The tactic surprised some voters, who believed Romney’s campaign pledge to make domestic partner benefits a “hallmark of my leadership as governor,” as he himself seemed to indicate an early willingness to accept the pro-gay ruling:

Then came the Supreme Judicial Court’s ruling in November 2003 that same-sex couples had a constitutional right to marry. In its 4–3 decision, the court gave the Legislature 180 days “to take such action as it may deem appropriate.” Opponents of same-sex marriage — citing a quirk in the state’s colonial-era Constitution that gave the governor authority over matters related to marriage — argued that the court’s decision was not binding and urged Romney to ignore it.

But Romney did not want to trigger a constitutional crisis — seeking, his advisor Flaherty said, to be “respectful of the law and respectful of people at the same time.” Initially, he struck a balanced tone with his two-track move to find a legislative solution that would satisfy the court while corralling support for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. “We certainly have to follow the law, and the Supreme Court has laid down what we must do,” he said on NBC’s”Today” show the day after the ruling. “But in my view, the right action is to follow two courses at the same time.”

But the governor quickly dropped all talk about complying with the ruling. Behind the scenes, Romney advisors worked to come up with ways to head it off, according to those involved. They consulted conservative constitutional experts such as historian Matthew Spalding, who works closely with former Reagan Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III at the Heritage Foundation.

It was soon clear that Romney could not push a gay marriage ban through the state’s liberal-leaning Legislature. So he helped persuade Republicans to support a compromise amendment that barred same-sex marriage but legalized civil unions.

Romney eventually seized on an obscure 1913 law (originally intended to limit interracial marriage) to keep out-of-state couples from marrying in Massachusetts and “endorsed a separate citizens’ petition for an amendment to ban gay marriage. Still, some conservative activists criticized Romney for opening the door to civil unions,” accusing him of being “everywhere on this issue” and even going so far as to claim that he personally issued marriage licenses to gay couples.

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By 2005, however, Romney was appearing before conservative groups in South Carolina and declaring, “From Day One, I’ve opposed the move for same-sex marriage and its equivalent, civil unions.” Calling the ruling “a blow against the family,” he said that some gay couples “are actually having children born to them.”