Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney said Wednesday that he's "made it very, very clear from the very beginning that I do not support gay marriage or civil unions" and that remarks he made earlier this week in South Carolina were consistent with that position. The Republican governor's critics assailed him for failing to mention during a speech to Republican Party activists in Spartanburg, S.C., on Monday that he supports a proposed amendment to the state constitution that, while banning same-sex marriage, would allow for civil unions.
In the speech Romney said, "From day one, I've opposed the move for same-sex marriage and its equivalent, civil unions." He said Wednesday the only reason he supports the amendment is that it would ban gay marriage. "You'll never find a statement anywhere that says I support civil unions," he said. "If the question is, Do you support gay marriage or civil unions? I'd say neither. If they said you have to have one or the other, that Massachusetts is going to have one or the other, then I'd rather have civil unions than gay marriage. But I'd rather have neither."
Both supporters and opponents of same-sex marriage have said Romney, a possible Republican presidential contender in 2008, is trying to have it both ways. "You can't say I'm for civil unions when you're in Massachusetts and say you're against them when you're out of Massachusetts. It just doesn't wash," said Democratic state representive Philip Travis of Rehoboth, an opponent of same-sex marriage. Romney's opposition to gay marriage has been lukewarm from the start, Travis said. "He never came out publicly and stood with us who were trying to get the pure bill through the legislature," he said. "He just stayed in his office and made statements."
Gay activists said they also found Romney's statements puzzling. "The governor's kind of 'bi' about this issue," said Arline Isaacson of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus. "In one venue he swings for civil unions, and in another venue he says he has always been against them."
Early in the debate Romney repeatedly stated his opposition to both marriage and civil unions for gays, saying the benefits of marriage should be reserved for heterosexual couples. "Marriage is a fundamental and universal social institution," he wrote in a Wall Street Journal editorial. "That benefits are given to married couples and not to singles or gay couples has nothing to do with discrimination; it has everything to do with building a stable new generation and nation."
But during a crucial final vote last year, Romney officials urged more than a dozen Republican lawmakers to support the compromise version of the proposed constitutional amendment, which included strong civil unions language. Within moments of that vote, Romney told reporters he would ask the state supreme judicial court to block same-sex marriages, then scheduled to begin May 17 under the court's landmark November 2003 ruling, until the process had a chance to play out. The court instead allowed the marriages to go forward.
Ron Crews, one of the top crusaders against gay marriage in Massachusetts, said Romney supported the compromise because he needed the legislature to take some action so he could ask the court to hold off on same-sex marriages until the amendment went to voters. "We wound up encouraging lawmakers to vote for that language because we were trying to prevent May 17 from happening," Crews said. "Politically we had to do what we had to do to get an amendment passed, but now we are in a different
In related news, Massachusetts's highest court has agreed to hear a challenge to the 1913 law that is being used to bar out-of-state gay couples from getting married in the state. The law denies out-of-state couples the right to marry if it would be illegal in their home state. The court agreed in late January to hear the case, but no public announcement was made. Oral arguments on the 1913 law are tentatively scheduled for September, said Joan Kenney, a spokeswoman for the court.
State officials invoked the 1913 law to stop nonresident couples from coming to Massachusetts to get married. Eight out-of-state gay couples sued, but a superior court judge ruled last August that the law was not discriminatory. Clerks in several communities also sued, saying they were being forced to apply a discriminatory law. The plaintiffs appealed, and the supreme judicial court agreed late last
month to hear the case. Critics charged that the 1913 law was written to block interracial marriages, but in its ruling the superior court said the state had presented credible evidence that the law was passed to prevent abuse of existing divorce laws.