Conservatives can’t seem to get their story straight on gay marriage. Some claim President Obama announced his support for marriage equality on Wednesday afternoon to gain political advantage. They reason that he wants to enthuse his base and distract attention from high unemployment. Others confidently predict that Obama has awoken the sleeping giant of socially conservative voters, and they will come out in November to punish him. Meanwhile, some concede that Republicans may not want to aggressively position themselves on “the wrong side of history,” and still others declare that Obama has declared “war on marriage.” And the latter two both work for Fox News.
Obama’s move has thrown Mitt Romney’s regressive position on marriage equality into stark relief. While Obama was already the most pro-gay rights president in history, Romney is actually further to the right than George W. Bush on gay marriage. Romney not only opposes gay marriage but also opposes civil unions that offer equivalent benefits to marriage. That means Romney would deny benefits such as hospital visitation rights to same-sex couples. Bush, on the other hand, supported civil unions, and his former vice president, Dick Cheney, supports gay marriage. Romney also supports a federal amendment to the Constitution that would ban gay marriage.
On other aspects of civil rights for gays and lesbians, Romney is a fairly standard Republican: he was against letting gays serve openly in the military, although he would not reverse the policy now that it has been changed. He opposes the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. And while he says that he does not discriminate in his own personal hiring practices, his openly gay foreign policy spokesman Richard Grenell resigned after being attacked by religious social conservatives and feeling that the Romney campaign was not publicly supporting him.
Any concerns that Romney will use gay marriage as a wedge issue to drum up evangelical voter turnout, as Republicans did in 2004, should be assuaged by the fact that Romney clearly hates talking about social issues. He has complained that he was forced to talk about them too frequently in the last campaign, and he has been known to begin answers to questions on social issues in debates by saying that instead of that subject he should be asked about the economy. He did that again in an interview with a local Colorado television station on Wednesday. After being asked about gay marriage, in-state public university tuition for the children of illegal immigrants and medical marijuana, he interrupted his interviewer and demanded, with audible irritation, “Aren’t there issues of significance that you’d like to talk about? The economy, the growth of jobs, the need to put people back to work, the challenges of Iran; we’ve got enormous issues that we face.” In other words, Romney thinks the only significant issues are the ones he prefers to discuss.