Romney goes on offense at expense of gays
by Michael K. Lavers
Locked in a bitter fight for the Republican presidential nomination, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney sparked controversy at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C., on February 9 when he highlighted his use of an arcane state law to prevent out-of-state same-sex couples from marrying in the Bay State.
"On my watch, we fought hard and prevented Massachusetts from becoming the Las Vegas of gay marriage," said Romney.
Romney, who ended up winning the CPAC straw poll at the end of the conference, nonetheless has seen his front-runner status erode as former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum has surged in recent days.
Massachusetts lawmakers passed a law in 1913 to prevent out-of-state interracial couples who could not legally marry in their home state from marrying in the Bay State. Governor Deval Patrick repealed the statute in 2008, but Romney pledged to defend the federal Defense of Marriage Act if elected president. He also vowed to fight for a constitutional amendment that would define marriage as between a man and a woman.
Romney further pointed out that he pushed for a constitutional amendment that would have defined marriage in Massachusetts as between a man and a woman. He claimed the measure lost by only one vote in the state Legislature, but MassEquality Executive Director Kara Suffredini described Romney's comment as "factually inaccurate." The measure actually fell short by five votes.
"The truth is that with respect to the vote to which Romney refers, marriage equality opponents failed to garner even the 25 percent of support among lawmakers needed to send a constitutional amendment to the voters," said Suffredini.
Suffredini also blasted Romney's reference to the 1913 law.
"We can't help but note that it is particularly odious of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney to proudly tout his resurrection of a racist law under any circumstances," Suffredini told the Bay Area Reporter. "To do so during Black History Month, as he did on Friday during the Conservative Political Action Conference, is truly offensive."
Gay Republicans were also quick to criticize Romney's comments.
"We are deeply disappointed with Governor Romney's speech at CPAC today," said GOProud co-founder Jimmy LaSalvia in a statement shortly after the speech. "Instead of simply saying that he opposed gay marriage, Romney instead chose to play to the ugliest and most divisive impulses in this country. If he thinks this is the way to appeal to Tea Party conservatives who have reservations about his candidacy, he is dead wrong."
R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, briefly spoke with Romney after his address. He told the B.A.R. that he complimented the former Massachusetts governor for a "solid speech" – with the exception of his defense of DOMA.
"I know we disagree on this," said Romney, according to Cooper.
Other candidates omit marriage
Two other GOP presidential hopefuls didn't mention marriage in their remarks at the conference.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich cited "dictatorial judges" whom he said are "rewriting the Constitution rather than enforcing the Constitution" in his CPAC speech a few hours after Romney spoke. He did not specifically criticize the federal appeals court decision on February 7 that found Proposition 8 unconstitutional.
Santorum, who has made social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage a staple on the campaign trail, did not specifically mention his opposition to marriage equality in his CPAC remarks earlier in the day last Friday.
Romney narrowly defeated Santorum in the Washington Times /CPAC straw poll with 38 percent of the vote, but only 19 percent of participants said their top priority is to "promote traditional values" by "protecting traditional marriage and protecting the life of the unborn." Sixty-three percent of participants listed promoting "individual freedom" by reducing the size of government as their top goals this year.
Only 1 percent of those who participated in the CPAC straw poll last year said stopping marriage for same-sex couples as their top priority.
Texas Governor Rick Perry sparked widespread controversy in December when, while still in the GOP race, he criticized gay and lesbian service members in a campaign ad. Perry, who dropped out of the race last month, did not specifically mention marriage and other LGBT-specific issues in his CPAC speech on February 8, but he again criticized President Barack Obama for his so-called war on religion.
"The Obama administration's war on faith must be ended," he said to sustained applause. "We must win this war."
LaSalvia dismissed this type of rhetoric in his criticism of Romney's speech.
"The left wants a culture war, because they can't defend this president's record of failure on the economy," said LaSalvia. "Conservatives shouldn't give them the fight they want – and that's exactly what Mitt Romney did today."
Other speakers at CPAC included Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, also a former presidential candidate; former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin; Florida Senator Marco Rubio; Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, the son of presidential candidate Congressman Ron Paul (Texas); and conservative columnist Ann Coulter.