The Romney I Battled Compared Marriage Equality for LGBT People to Slavery
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In offering up last week's "qualified endorsement" of Mitt Romney for president, the Log Cabin Republicans alleged that "as his record as Governor of Massachusetts suggests, [Romney] will not waste his precious time in office with legislative attacks on LGBT Americans." As soon as I read that, I knew I had to speak out. When Romney was governor, I headed up MassEquality, the campaign in Massachusetts to protect the nation's first freedom-to-marry court ruling. We then took on a broader portfolio, tackling LGBT equality issues across the board. The Log Cabin assertion is wildly incorrect.
For most of his four years, Mitt Romney was relentlessly focused on taking away freedoms and protections from, and attacking, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender residents of Massachusetts. He went after the freedom to marry, gay parenting and support for vulnerable LGBT young people, moving away from the supportive environment created by the three governors who preceded him, all Republicans. And it wasn't only his stance on the issues that was problematic. It was his hostile approach. In Massachusetts, when Romney needed an easy target to boost his socially conservative credentials, more often than not he turned first to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community and whacked away.
I will never forget the op-ed piece Romney wrote in the Wall Street Journal in February 2004. Titled "One Man, One Woman; A Citizen's Guide to Protecting Marriage," Romney likened the Goodridge marriage decision to the U.S. Supreme Court's Dred Scott decision. Here's what he wrote:
With the Dred Scott case, decided four years before he took office, President Lincoln faced a judicial decision that he believed was terribly wrong and badly misinterpreted the U.S. Constitution. Here is what Lincoln said: "If the policy of the government upon vital questions affecting the whole people is to be irrevocably fixed by decisions of the Supreme Court, the instant they are made in ordinary litigation between parties in personal actions the people will have ceased to be their own rulers, having to that extent practically resigned their government into the hands of that eminent tribunal." By its decision, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts circumvented the Legislature and the executive, and assumed to itself the power of legislating. That's wrong.
Romney could have chosen any example to highlight his concerns about judicial overreach, but the gall of using what is probably the most evil court decision in our country's history, the one that stated that blacks were property and were denied any protections by the Constitution, to decry a decision that freed gays and lesbians to pursue happiness and to have equal protection under the law is not just outrageous; it's despicable.
It was that awful comparison that finally spurred several of the plaintiffs in the Goodridge case to go in person to the governor's office to demand a meeting or, if they were denied, hold a press conference. They'd asked Romney time and again to get together with them and listen to them explain why marriage mattered so much to them, but he had ignored them. After staff told the plaintiffs that Romney was unavailable, they began the press conference, which drew attention from the State House press corps. Recognizing that Romney was about to be embarrassed, the staff changed course and invited the plaintiffs in to see the governor.
By now, you may have read some of the plaintiffs' accounts of that meeting. The attendees, several of whom are close friends and all colleagues in this struggle, told me how shocked they were by Romney's lack of any feeling, seriousness or empathy. They talked about the fact that they'd had many, many meetings with political leaders who didn't agree with them, but not a single one of them could remember a meeting with a political leader whose behavior was more dehumanizing or vacant.
For me, a particularly searing memory is of the time when Romney dusted off a shameful old law that hadn't been applied in decades, the so-called 1913 law, to keep out-of-state same-sex couples from getting married in Massachusetts. It was a law whose origins were rooted in efforts to keep interracial couples from the South from coming to Massachusetts to marry, banning marriages of those who couldn't marry in their home states. Romney not only grabbed hold of this law and applied it vigorously; he talked proudly and derisively of ensuring that Massachusetts didn't become "the Las Vegas of gay marriage," especially when he was on the road and boasting of what he was doing to stop same-sex couples from marrying.
I also recall well Romney's attacks on gay parenting, which the Boston Globe reported on last week. Gay parenting had been commonplace for many years in Massachusetts, and the state had had second-parent adoptions for partners of the birth parent since 1993. Yet Romney refused to allow birth certificates listing two people of the same sex as the parents they in fact were. He actually required his chief counsel to personally approve the events surrounding the birth of every child born to parents of the same sex and then give approval to hospital staff to scratch out "father" or "mother" and write in "second parent," even though he was told how problematic defacing birth certificates like that was.
Not content with bad policy, Romney also made his disdain political, traveling outside his state to trash his own constituents. In 2005, for instance, he went to South Carolina and told a Republican gathering:
Today same-sex couples are marrying under the law in Massachusetts. Some are actually having children born to them. We've been asked to change their birth certificates to remove the phrase "mother" and "father" and replace it with "parent A" and "parent B." It's not right on paper. It's not right in fact.
"Actually having children born to them"? Despicable.
I also remember May 11, 2006, when Romney decided, out of the blue, to shut down the Governor's Commission on Gay & Lesbian Youth, established by Republican Gov. Bill Weld a decade earlier to address LGBT youth suicide and strengthened by Weld's successor, Republican Gov. Paul Cellucci, to support a broad array of anti-violence and anti-bullying work. Beth Myers, Romney's chief of staff (and today a senior aide), called the chair of the commission, Kathleen Henry, and told her that Romney was issuing an executive order "revoking our existence" because he was offended by the use of the word "transgender" on letterhead where his name was on the sidebar. She told Henry that Romney would replace it with a commission focused on all the state's youth, and that they'd replace all the members of the commission.
Defenders of LGBT youth were horrified. My good friend Liz Malia, the openly lesbian state representative from Boston, marched down to the governor's office and told staff that she wouldn't leave until she could have a meeting. After several hours she finally met with Eric Fehrnstrom, Romney's spokesman (and today a senior strategist), who reiterated that Romney wanted a commission focused on all youth, not just gay and lesbian youth.
After much pressure, Romney relented, but only with restrictions on what the commission could do. The damage had already been done, however, and so our allies in the legislature wrested this commission away from Romney and set up an independent commission.
As best I could tell (given that I was only in the governor's suite of offices in the Massachusetts State House on a couple of occasions during Romney's term), his office was very welcoming to our opponents on the far right. I recall ducking into a press conference where Romney was arguing for a constitutional amendment to strip away the freedom to marry and seeing the director of the far-right Massachusetts Family Institute in the press office on the side, using the copy machine as though it were his own office. And on Romney's last day in office, one of the first people lined up to shake his hand on his ceremonial exit from the State House was Kris Mineau, the executive director of the Family Institute.
I have always placed a high degree of importance on building bipartisan support in the work to secure the freedom to marry and achieve full equality for LGBT people. I consistently make a point to highlight support from Republicans, because, let's face it, it is generally harder for them, politically, to back equality for LGBT people than it is for Democrats. In Massachusetts we had strong Republicans who fought with us all the way, including former Gov. Bill Weld and former Senate Minority Leader (and now candidate for Congress) Richard Tisei. But when it comes to LGBT equality, Romney is no Bill Weld. In fact, he's not even a Dick Cheney, who supports the freedom to marry, and not even a George W. Bush, who professed support for civil union.
I'm sad to say that Romney is someone whose track record is one of turning to LGBT people as an easy point of attack when the going gets tough, in order to burnish his socially conservative credentials, and someone whose personal interactions betray no genuine empathy for gay people, gay families or gay youth, not even when he has taken an oath (and made political promises) to stand up for them.
I won't speculate on what led the Log Cabin Republicans to put forward their "qualified endorsement," but I can say it takes no speculation to know what a Romney presidency would portend for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. The record is clear.