President Obama has been the most pro-gay rights president in US history. He has allowed gays to serve openly in the military, refused to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court, endorsed gay marriage and pledged to sign the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would prevent workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Mitt Romney opposes gay marriage, even going so far as to support a constitutional amendment to ban it. He has refused to take a position on ENDA, but he opposed it in his last run for president. He did not support repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell.” So you would think that from a gay rights perspective, the question of which candidate is better would be unambiguous.
Well, not if you ask the Log Cabin Republicans. The self-described, “only Republican organization dedicated to representing the interests of LGBT Americans and their allies,” endorsed Romney on Tuesday. Of course, one can argue, as to an extent LCR does, that they simply care more about some other issues than their own civil rights. But, to the immense frustration of liberal gay rights advocates, they also elide the differences between two candidates on gay rights itself.
In the most pivotal paragraphs, LCR writes:
If LGBT issues are a voter’s highest or only priority, then Governor Romney may not be that voter’s choice. However, Log Cabin Republicans is an organization representing multifaceted individuals with diverse priorities. Having closely reviewed the candidate’s history and observed the campaign, we believe Governor Romney will make cutting spending and job creation his priorities, and, as his record as Governor of Massachusetts suggests, will not waste his precious time in office with legislative attacks on LGBT Americans.
We are confident that there will be no retreat from the significant gains we’ve made in recent years, most importantly on repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” With regard to the LGBT issue most likely to reach the president’s desk and most vital to many in our community today—workplace nondiscrimination—we are persuaded that we can work with a Romney administration to achieve a desirable outcome.
The first and last sentences of that section struck me as nonsensical. While it is legitimate for LCR to say that they care more about tax cuts than LGBT issues, how can they only acknowledge that Romney “may not” be the candidate for a voter whose only priority is gay rights? Shouldn’t that phrase be “would not”? And why is LCR persuaded they can work with Romney to pass a workplace nondiscrimination law?
I called LCR’s executive director, R. Clarke Cooper, to find out.
Romney’s greatest asset as a politician is his total lack of integrity, honesty or consistency. He is perfectly willing to go before the religious right one day and pledge fealty to them, and the Log Cabin Republicans the next day to do the same. And, apparently, that is what he has done, in private. Cooper asserted repeatedly that, “With a President Romney we’re confident we can work with him [on ENDA].” But when asked why, Cooper offered only reasons that Romney should work with them: that discrimination is a form of economic inefficiency and impediment to job growth. But you could make the same argument to any president. The question is what Romney has said that gives them such confidence. Cooper says, “Romney been clear in his opposition to workplace discrimination.” He also seemed to conflate private conversations with LCR representatives and his public pronouncements, saying such things as, "[Romney] is acutely aware of the problem of the patchwork of discrimination," meaning that it creates problems for businesses that some states ban anti-gay discrimination and others do not. Later, clearly referencing private communications with the campaign, Cooper said, "Based on our work with the campaign and Gov. Romney, I'm confident [that he will support anti-discrimination legislation]." Cooper was coy and vague about what exactly Romney said to inspire such confidence; he says Romney "has been adamant" in opposition to discrimination. Romney is clearly quite a salesman.
As I’ve written before, Romney has spoken of his personal preference not to practice discrimination, but he has not actually publicly called for outlawing workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Cooper said he would e-mail me Romney quotes I may have missed that do call for such legislation, but as of this writing he had not done so.
As I continued to press this point and suggested that LCR may be factually wrong about Romney's position, Cooper blurted out, rhetorically, “Have you met with Romney’s domestic policy team?” Cooper's implication was abundantly clear: Romney's domestic policy team has privately told LCR what they wanted to hear. And therein lies the answer to how Romney secured LCR’s endorsement. But Romney so fears the wrath of the religious right that he will not adopt this position in public, (Although ENDA polls very well, major social conservative groups, such as the American Family Association, continue to oppose it and demand that Romney do the same.)
Given that Romney is a reflexive liar, the question then becomes why LCR chooses to believe Romney. For that, I have no answer other than wishful thinking on their part.
In a response video posted online, Representative Barney Frank (D-MA) complains that LCR is dishonestly muddying the issues. “I can understand people saying, ‘gay rights is not that important to me and I’m generally conservative on other issues,’” says Frank. “It makes no sense, however, to argue, as some in Log Cabin do, that they will be advancing LGBT rights by voting, or supporting, Romney…. I very much want them to try to get Republicans to stop being so homophobic. My objection is that they pretend to succeed when they haven’t…. You don’t change people by rewarding them for continuing to act the way they’ve been acting.”
LCR does make distinctions among Republicans as to which ones are more or less supportive of their positions. Romney has won only a “qualified” endorsement. While they will volunteer for Romney, LCR intends to be more active on behalf of House and Senate candidates who are more pro–gay rights, and their political action committee is giving money only to House and Senate candidates. “While many of our members will also be working hard on behalf of Governor Romney, growing the pro-equality Republican presence in the House and Senate is our highest electoral priority this year,” writes LCR.
They also have their limits as to how much anti-gay bigotry they could tolerate on the presidential ticket. They write, “Mitt Romney is not Rick Santorum, and Paul Ryan is not Michele Bachmann. Otherwise, our decision would have been different.”
While liberals might view the distinction between Santorum and Bachmann and Romney and Ryan as merely rhetorical, Cooper cites some real policy differences. Santorum, for example, pledged to reinstate “don’t ask, don’t tell,” which Romney would not. And Romney supports adoption rights for gay couples, which Santorum opposes.
Nonetheless, the gulf between President Obama and Governor Romney on gay rights is at least as wide that between Romney and Santorum. As Frank says, “We have never in American history had a sharper distinction between a very supportive candidate and platform and one that’s very opposed.”
This post has been updated for clarity.
Obama's progressive stance on social issues was key to his appeal to young voters. Will those issues still push them to the polls this November? Check out Zoë Carpenter on "The Missing Millennials."