This has been a confusing week for voters trying to keep track of Mitt Romney’s constantly changing stances on gay rights. As I reported Tuesday, the Log Cabin Republicans endorsed Romney, claiming that Romney opposes workplace discrimination and expressing confidence that he would work with them to pass legislation banning it. From my interview with R. Clarke Cooper, LCR’s executive director, it was clear that Romney had told them as much in private. This is strange, because Romney has not made such a pledge publicly since 1994. More recently, in 2007, he said he would oppose such legislation as burdensome on business.
Some bloggers interpreted my report to mean that Romney had explicitly struck a deal with LCR for their endorsement. That is not necessarily the case. He clearly pandered to them in private prior to winning their endorsement, but that does not mean any deal was made.
BuzzFeed asked Cooper if Romney pledged to sign the Employment Non-Discrimination Act [ENDA], and Cooper said, “I did not say Romney would sign the current form of ENDA.” But he admitted that he, “discussed legislative vehicles and executive actions with Romney regarding workplace non-discrimination, including ENDA.” The emphasis on the current form of ENDA is crucial: the bill currently in Congress, unlike some prior versions, includes protection for “gender identity” as well as sexual orientation. That means it would protect transgender people as well as gays and lesbians. That may be a bridge too far for Romney.
Cooper reiterated his certainty that Romney would support anti-discrimination policies in an interview with the Washington Blade, saying it was the subject of a meeting between LCR and Romney on October 17. “I can say with confidence that the Romney administration would work on desirable outcomes for workplace non-discrimination,” Cooper said. “I’m going to leave it broad like that because I think there’s room for administrative action as well as legislative. I also think it’s probably fair to say that legislation in a form of an ENDA or an ENDA-like legislation is certainly realistic.”
Given how Romney is trying to carefully balance appeals to social moderates by presenting himself as opposed to discrimination without taking a stand on any actual legislation, figuring out his position on ENDA is turning into Kremlinology. As BuzzFeed’s Chris Geidner notes, “Cooper’s careful language would allow a lesser, but similar, understanding about Romney’s general support for workplace protections to have been reached before the endorsement.” What would such an understanding consist of? Possibly that Romney would support a bill that is weaker than the current form of ENDA in Congress. One obvious way the law could be weakened is removing protections for transgender individuals. As Zack Ford of ThinkProgress notes, “LCR only claims to support equality for ‘gay and lesbian Americans,’ so perhaps they are prepared to abandon the transgender community to achieve ‘tangible outcomes’ that include only protections based on sexual orientation.”