In a swipe at virulently antigay American Family Association spokesman Bryan Fischer, Mitt Romney called for an end to "poisonous language" in politics while also touting his own anti-LGBT positions.
Though the GOP presidential candidate did not mention Fischer by name in his Saturday address at the 2011 Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C., the reference was clear. "We should remember that decency and civility are values too. One of the speakers here who will follow me today has crossed that line, I think," Romney said. "Poisonous language does not advance our cause. It has never softened a single heart nor changed a single mind."
In recent days, progressive groups had called on Romney to
denounce the antigay rhetoric spewed by AFA and the Family Research
Council; both are cosponsors of the annual summit and have been designated as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Romney's remarks on Fischer elicited mild applause from the audience, one more inclined to standing ovations for presidential candidates Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann who appeared at the summit yesterday.
But Romney was no model of tolerance in his address. The former Massachusetts governor sought to burnish his own antigay credentials before a crowd that had wildly cheered onstage condemnations of the Pentagon's recent decision allowing military chaplains to officiate at same-sex weddings (an ironic reaction from those who normally rail against abridgements of religious freedom, critics charged).
If elected, Romney pledged to vigorously defend the Defense of Marriage Act and blasted the Obama administration's February announcement that it would no longer do so. The Justice Department has argued in several court briefs that the law is unconstitutional. "I will appoint an attorney general who will defend the bipartisan law passed by Congress and signed by Bill Clinton," Romney said of DOMA.
Openly gay Republican presidential candidate Fred Karger gave Romney few points for his criticism of Fischer: "I hope other Republican presidential candidates will join Mitt Romney and me in condemning Bryan Fischer's hate speech ... but Republican presidential candidates have no business kowtowing to these known hate groups," Karger told The Advocate.
Fischer, who took the stage following Romney and, not surprisingly, railed against gays, told Sarah Posner of Religion Dispatches that Romney's remarks were "tasteless."
"I thought he was allowing the New York Times and the Southern Poverty Law Center and People for the American Way to dictate the content of his speech, which I think was a mistake for him to do at the Values Voters Summit," Fischer said. "That was kind of an insult to the people in the room. . . . I don't think it helped him."
Jimmy LaSalvia, executive director of GoProud, condemned Fischer in a statement but praised Romney "for speaking out courageously against this kind of rhetoric."
"We have a country on the edge of fiscal disaster and it is critical that we have a united conservative movement that can make the case to average Americans about why our vision, our values and our policies are right for this country," LaSalvia said. "The last thing we need is a right wing version of Jeremiah Wright, distracting and dividing us, and that's exactly what Bryan Fisher is."
Below, video of Romney's address at the Values Voter Summit via Rightwingwatch.org: