January 10, 2012 at 8:42 am EST | by Chris Johnson
Romney disavows 2002 Pride proclamation

Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign is trying to distance itself from a 2002 campaign flier in which the then candidate for Massachusetts governor commemorated gay Pride, triggering accusations of flip-flopping.

In a statement distributed to the media, Ben LaBolt, an Obama campaign spokesperson, said the comments from Romney’s presidential campaign represent yet another change in position for the candidate.

“After Mitt Romney claimed he’d be a stronger advocate for gay rights than Senator Kennedy when he was running for office in Massachusetts, and one day after saying that gays should have ‘full rights,’ Romney’s campaign today disavowed a flier that simply said ‘all citizens deserve equal rights, regardless of their sexual preference,” LaBolt said. “What on that flier does Mitt Romney disagree with?  Does he not believe all Americans should have equal rights? Who is he trying to pander to now? This is why Americans will have trouble trusting Mitt Romney — he doesn’t keep his word.”

The pink flier, which according to Buzzfeed was distributed by Romney’s gubernatorial campaign in 2002, reads, “Mitt and Kerry Wish You a Great Pride Weekend! All citizens deserve equal rights, regardless of their sexual preference.” The message references both Romney and his then-running mate for lieutenant governor Kerry Healey.

The flier is consistent with remarks that the former Massachusetts governor made during a presidential debate on Sunday when asked about a letter he wrote while running for U.S. Senate in 1994 in which he promised to be stronger on gay rights than the late Sen. Edward Kennedy.

During the Meet the Press/Facebook debate, Romney said he’ll advocate for “full rights” for gay people, although he said he remains opposed to same-sex marriage.

“If people are looking for someone who will discriminate against gays or will in any way try and suggest that people — that have different sexual orientation don’t have full rights in this country, they won’t find that in me,” Romney said.

Asked about the last time he spoke out for increasing gay rights, Romney replied, “Right now.”

Mitt Romney speaks at high school rally in Bedford, N.H. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

But according to the Huffington Post, Romney’s chief spokesperson Eric Fehrnstrom said the 2002 pamphlet wasn’t a campaign publication — despite the tag line at the bottom of the flier reading, “Paid for by the Romney for Governor Committee.” The campaign spokesperson was quoted as saying he doesn’t know who was responsible for the flier.

“I don’t know where those pink fliers came from,” Fehrnstrom reportedly said. “I was the communications director on the 2002 campaign. I don’t know who distributed them … I never saw them and I was the communications director.”

The Huffington Post article doesn’t address whether the presidential campaign has disavowed the message in the flier, but reports that Fehrnstrom said he “never approved” the flier before it was distributed.

In the article, Fehrnstrom clarifies that Romney not only doesn’t back same-sex marriage, but also doesn’t support civil unions, despite his purported advocacy for “full rights.”

“[H]e has not been in favor of civil unions, if by civil unions you mean the equivalency to marriage but without the name marriage,” Fehrnstrom said. “What he has favored, and he talked about this, I believe, last night, was a form of domestic partnership or a contractual relationship with reciprocal benefits.”

But in a later report from Buzzfeed, Josh Barro, a former Romney campaign volunteer who is now a fiscal policy scholar at the conservative think tank The Manhattan Institute, told BuzzFeed the flier calling for “equal rights” was indeed campaign literature.

Barro said he was a college intern for Romney’s campaign and answered mail for Healey. Barro said the task of distributing the fliers was organized by a full-time staffer, but added he couldn’t remember her name.

“On Pride weekend, the campaign sent a contingent of about a half-dozen of us to the post-parade festival on Boston Common to hand out those fliers,” he reportedly said in an email.

But Buzzfeed also obtained a new document showing that Fehrstrom’s claim that Romney hasn’t backed civil unions is inaccurate. In response to the 2003 Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage Romney called for civil unions legislation.

The document states, “Gov. Mitt Romney told reporters that he believed a civil unions statute would ‘be sufficient’ to satisfy the justices’ concerns. Joining Romney in the call for civil unions legislation was Rep. Eugene O’Flaherty, chairman of the House’s Committee on the Judiciary.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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