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Romney, in his own (contradictory) words

GOP frontrunner’s tortured history on LGBT rights

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

Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney has been criticized as a flip-flopper during his presidential campaign — and although he’s defended himself against accusations that his positions have pivoted on LGBT rights, his record shows that he’s also changed on these issues.

During a Dec. 15 debate in Sioux City, Iowa, when Fox News moderator Chris Wallace said Romney has changed his positions in the last 10 years on abortion, gay rights and gun control, the candidate took exception to this list and said his positions have been consistent on gay rights.

“I’m firmly in support of people not being discriminated against based upon their sexual orientation,” Romney said. “At the same time, I oppose same-sex marriage. That’s been my position from the beginning.”

But an examination of Romney’s previous statements reveals any assertion that he’s held the same positions on LGBT rights — including opposition to same-sex marriage — since the beginning of his political career is false.

From marriage to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to civil unions to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, Romney’s positions have wildly changed as he has pursued different offices and public opinion has grown to support LGBT issues.

Most of Romney’s earlier pro-LGBT positions can found in a 1994 letter that he wrote while running as a U.S. Senate candidate in Massachusetts against the late Sen. Edward Kennedy. In the missive, Romney boasted he could go further on gay rights than Kennedy, saying “I will provide more effective leadership than my opponent.”

“If we are to achieve the goals that we share, we must make, we must make equality for gays and lesbians a mainstream concern,” Romney said. “My opponent cannot do this. I can and will.”

Romney pledged to co-sponsor a version of ENDA, and if possible to expand the measure to include housing and credit. The then-Senate candidate also called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which had been recently signed into law by former President Clinton, a first step in a process that will “ultimately lead to gays and lesbians being able to serve openly and honestly in our nation’s military.”

But prior to the 2008 election when Romney began pursuing his presidential ambitions, his support for employment non-discrimination legislation and open service vanished.

For example, in a 2006 interview with the National Journal, Romney said when asked about his previous support for that he doesn’t “see the need for new or special legislation” because passage of the bill would open a floodgate of litigation.

In 2007, Romney said during a presidential debate he “was wrong” in thinking “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was a silly idea and said “it seems to be working.” The candidate continued to say repeal would be “a social experiment” and that he “wouldn’t change it” during a time of war.

Asked again during his current campaign about “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” during an editorial board meeting with the Des Moines Register in December, Romney pivoted again, saying he’s “not planning on reversing” open service now that wars are over.

Even on marriage, Romney has changed in his opposition to gay nuptials. In an interview with Bay Windows in 1994, Romney said marriage is “a state issue as you know – the authorization of marriage on a same-sex basis falls under state jurisdiction.”

But that position changed after the Massachusetts Supreme Court under his watch as governor legalized same-sex marriage, prompting him to call for a Federal Marriage Amendment.

Still, his vision for a U.S. constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage has changed even over the course of his current campaign. In an August debate, Romney said marriage isn’t “an activity that goes on within the walls of a state” and said it “should be constant across the country.”

But in a December interview with the Boston Herald, Romney said his vision of a Federal Marriage Amendment would allow existing same-sex marriages to remain intact.

“I think it would keep intact those marriages which had occurred under the law but maintain future plans based on marriage being between a man and a woman,” Romney said.

That vision of allowing states to maintain existing same-sex marriages would, at least temporarily, result in varying laws with respect to marriage for state throughout the country.

LGBT rights groups on the right and left said Romney’s varied positions on LGBT rights demonstrates either a lack of character or his willingness to reconsider his views on the issues depending on the political alignment of the organization.

Jimmy LaSalvia, executive director of the gay conservative group GOProud, commended Romney for repeatedly speaking out against discrimination in debates, despite his changing positions on LGBT issues.

“He’s been consistent in his opposition to discrimination,” said LaSalvia, who’s endorsed Romney. “He has a record of hiring gay people, and, as governor, he appointed gay people to high-level positions.”

Jerame Davis, executive director of the National Stonewall Democrats, said Romney’s varied positions on LGBT rights demonstrates Romney “clearly has no moral compass and will say anything to get elected.”

“The only thing Mitt Romney stands for is Mitt Romney,” Davis said. “On issue after issue — LGBT or otherwise — he has pandered to the least common denominator and allowed the political winds to guide his every word.”

A roundup of Romney’s statements on LGBT issues follows:

On the Employment Non-Discrimination Act

In a 1994 letter to Log Cabin Republicans, Romney said he would co-sponsor ENDA:

“We have discussed a number of important issues such as the Federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which I have agreed to co-sponsor, and if possible broaden to housing and credit.”

In a 2006 interview with National Review Online, Romney said he no longer supports ENDA:

“I don’t see the need for new or special legislation. My experience over the past several years as governor has convinced me that ENDA would be an overly broad law that would open a litigation floodgate and unfairly penalize employers at the hands of activist judges.”

In a 2007 interview on “Meet the Press,” Romney said ENDA-like laws should be left to the states:

“At the state level, I think it makes sense for states to put in provision of this. I would not support at the federal level, and I changed in that regard because I think that policy makes more sense to be implemented at the state level. If you’re looking for someone who’s never changed any positions on any policies, then I’m not your guy. I learn from experience.”

On ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’

In a 1994 letter to Log Cabin Republican, Romney called “Don’t Ask” a transitional policy that would lead to open service:

“One issue I want to clarify concerns President Clinton’s ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Pursue’ military policy. I believe that Clinton’s compromise was a step in the right direction. I am also convinced that it is the first of a number of steps that will ultimately lead to gays and lesbians being able to serve openly and honestly in our nation’s military.”

In a 2007 GOP debate at Saint Anselm College, Romney said “Don’t Ask” was working:

“When I first heard of the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy, I thought it sounded awfully silly. I didn’t think that would be very effective. And I turned out to be wrong. It’s been the policy now in the military for what, 10, 15 years, and it seems to be working. This is not the time to put in place a major change, a social experiment, in the middle of a war going on. I wouldn’t change it at this point.”

In a June 2011 debate in New Hampshire:

“I believe it should have been kept in place until conflict was over.”

In 2011, he spoke about open service with the Des Moines Register:

“That’s already occurred and I’m not planning on reversing that at this stage. … I was not comfortable making the change during a period of conflict, by virtue of the complicating features of a new program in the middle of two wars going on, but those wars are winding down and moving in that direction at this stage no longer presents that problem.”

On civil unions

From a 2003 document found on the governor’s old website:

A day after the Supreme Judicial Court decision, Gov. 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, chair of the House Committee on the Judiciary.

In a 2005 interview with Chris Matthews on MSNBC’s “Hardball” on the difference between civil unions and marriage:

“I’d rather have neither to tell you the truth. I’d rather have domestic partnership benefits, such as hospital visitation rights for same-sex couples. I don’t want civil unions or gay marriage, but there is a difference. Even with just the word, there’s a difference.”

In 2012, a Romney campaign spokesperson reaffirmed the candidate’s opposition to civil marriage:

“[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. 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.”

On LGBT Pride

Text from 2002 Pride flier from Romney’s gubernatorial campaign:

“Mitt and Kerry wish you a great Pride weekend. All citizens deserve equal rights, regardless of their sexual preference.”

In 2012, Romney’s campaign disavowed the letter:

“I don’t know where those pink fliers came from. 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,” Eric Fehrnstrom said.

On same-sex marriage

Romney in 1994 to gay newspaper Bay Windows:

Same-sex marriage is “a state issue as you know – the authorization of marriage on a same-sex basis falls under state jurisdiction.”

In 2004 testimony before Congress:

I join with those who support a federal constitutional amendment. Some retreat from the concept of amendment, per se. While they say they agree with the traditional definition of marriage, they hesitate to amend. But amendment is a vital and necessary aspect of our constitutional democracy, not an aberration.

In an August 2011 debate:

“Marriage should be decided at the federal level. You might wonder, why is that? Why wouldn’t you just let each state make their own decision? And the reason is, people move from state to state of course in a society like ours. … Marriage is a status; it’s not an activity that goes on within the walls of a state. And as a result, our marriage-status relationship should be constant across the country. I believe we should have a federal amendment to the constitution that defines marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman.”

In a December 2011 interview with the Boston Herald:

Romney expressed support for a constitutional amendment that could create a complex three-tier system of marriage —maintaining marriage rights for straight couples, allowing gays who have already married to remain married, but barring future same-sex marriages.

“I think it would keep intact those marriages which had occurred under the law but maintain future plans based on marriage being between a man and a woman,” Romney said.

In 2011 he told the Des Moines Register:

“I would like to see a national amendment defining marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman. But that was tried maybe three or four years ago. I don’t think that’s likely to receive the necessary support, at least in the near term.”

During a January 2012 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.

 

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Oklahoma

White House, national groups respond to nonbinary Okla. teenager’s death

Nex Benedict died after reported assault

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Nex Benedict, a 16-year-old nonbinary student from Oklahoma, died on Feb. 8 after a fight at their high school. (Family photo)

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and national advocacy groups issued statements on Wednesday about the death of nonbinary Oklahoma teenager Nex Benedict after they were allegedly assaulted in a high school restroom.

Benedict died on Feb. 8. According to ABC News, officials investigating the incident said they will be interviewing students and staff “over the next few weeks” and plan to share findings with the Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office.

The victim’s mother told the Independent that Benedict had suffered bullying over their gender since the start of the 2023 school year, shortly after Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt signed a bill to prohibit students from using public school restrooms that do not match the sex listed on their birth certificates.

“Every young person deserves to feel safe and supported at school,” Jean-Pierre said in a post on X. “Our hearts are with Nex Benedict’s family, their friends, and their entire school community in the wake of this horrific tragedy.”

Calling Benedict’s death a “gut-wrenching tragedy that exposes the chilling reality of anti-trans hatred,” Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson said. “We are reaching out to the DOJ, we are encouraging the community to speak out.”

Along with Robinson’s remarks, HRC’s Press Team included a link to the organization’s blog post about Benedict and a statement from Tori Cooper, director of community engagement for the HRC Transgender Justice Initiative:

“Extremist anti-LGBTQ+ hate accounts, like online troll Chaya Raichik, the woman behind ‘Libs of TikTok’, who was recently appointed to Oklahoma’s library advisory board, are perpetuating a vile and hateful narrative that is permitting these types of public attacks,” she wrote.

State schools superintendent Ryan Walters, who last year called transgender youth using public restrooms “an assault on truth” and a danger to other kids, was responsible for naming Raichik to the library media panel.

“The assault on Nex is an inevitable result of the hateful rhetoric and discriminatory legislation targeting Oklahoma trans youth,” Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Oklahoma wrote in a joint statement.

“We are deeply troubled by reports the school failed to respond appropriately to the altercation that preceded Nex’s death and demand a thorough, open investigation into the matter,” the groups wrote.

Their statement also notes the organizations’ lawsuit challenging Oklahoma Senate Bill 615, the bathroom bill signed by Stitt last year.

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U.S. Supreme Court

Alito renews criticism of the Supreme Court’s landmark marriage equality ruling

Obergefell decision allowed same-sex couples to marry around the country

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U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito speaks at a conference in D.C. in December 2023 (YouTube screenshot)

Conservative U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito on Tuesday renewed his criticism of the landmark 2015 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges that established the nationwide constitutional right to same-sex marriage.

His remarks came in a 5-page order that was written in connection with the High Court’s decision not to hear Missouri Department of Corrections v. Jean Finney — a dispute over whether a juror’s position that “homosexuality, according to the Bible, is a sin” can be the basis for striking him from an employment discrimination case that was brought by a lesbian.

The conflict, Alito argued, “exemplifies the danger” he foresaw in the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage ruling, which was decided by a 5-4 majority with Alito among the justices who dissented.

Specifically, Alito raised concern in his statement that “Americans who do not hide their adherence to traditional religious beliefs about homosexual conduct will be ‘labeled as bigots and treated as such’ by the government.'”

“The opinion of the court in [Obergefell] made it clear that the decision should not be used in that way,” the justice wrote, “but I am afraid that this admonition is not being heeded by our society.”

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Oklahoma

Nonbinary Okla. high school student dies after fight

Nex Benedict passed away Feb. 8

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Nex (Dagny) Benedict, a 16-year-old nonbinary high school student, died from injuries suffered in a physical altercation at Owasso High School on Feb. 7, 2024. (Family photo)

Located in Tulsa County on U.S. Highway 169 six miles north of Tulsa’s city limits, Owasso, which is home to 39,328 people, is grappling with conflict and accusations after Nex Benedict, a 16-year-old Owasso High School sophomore who was nonbinary, died after a physical fight in a restroom at the school.

However, according to school officials there was no notification or staff awareness of the fight until the young student had been taken to hospital and later died. The Owasso Police Department is now investigating the circumstances surrounding the student’s death. 

According to the local newspaper, the Owasso Reporter:

“On Wednesday, Feb. 7, around 3:30 p.m., police were called to Bailey Medical Center by the parent of a 16-year-old Owasso High School student who allegedly had a physical altercation at the campus earlier that day, according to the police report.”

It states that no initial report of the fight was made to police prior to their admission to Bailey, although information was taken by a school resource officer at the hospital.

On the evening of Feb. 8, police were made aware that the student was rushed back to the hospital where they were pronounced dead from a medical episode, the report states.

KJRH in neighboring Tulsa reported that a person knowledgeable of the events leading to the teen’s death, who claimed to be the mother of the victim’s best friend, told the station regarding the teen’s death:

“I think complications from brain trauma, head trauma, is what caused it,” she said.

The woman wouldn’t say the victim’s name but said Benedict was a sophomore. Bailey said the victim was outgoing and loyal once they got comfortable and was not afraid to be outspoken. The woman said three older girls were beating on the victim and her daughter in the girl’s bathroom.

“I know at one point, one of the girls was pretty much repeatedly beating [Benedict] head across the floor,” she said. That’s when [Benedict said] a teacher walked in and broke it up.

“[Benedict] couldn’t walk to the nurses’ station on [Benedict] own, and staff didn’t call the ambulance, which amazes me,” she said.

The woman told KJRH the victim’s grandmother, who [Benedict] primarily lived with, brought [Benedict] to the hospital after the fight. She said the victim was released that evening but was brought back the next day and died.

KJRH reached out multiple times along with other media outlets to Owasso Public Schools. A school district spokesperson responded saying there would be no comment “because this is an active police investigation.”

The Owasso Police Department also declined to comment except for noting investigators still don’t know if the fight was related to the teen’s death or if a separate medical issue was the cause. OPD said they’re waiting on the corner-medical examiner’s report before releasing more information.

Owasso Public Schools released this statement about the student’s death:

“The Owasso Police Department has notified district leaders of the death of an Owasso High School student. The student’s name and cause of death have not yet been made public. As this is an active police investigation, we will have no additional comment at this time. Further inquiries should be directed to the Owasso Police Department.”

“The district will have additional counselors at the school to provide support to students and staff beginning on Friday.”

On Feb. 15, after a service was held at Mowery Funeral Service Chapel, Benedict was buried at Ridgelawn Cemetery in Collinsville.

LGBTQ advocates and others are angered by the death, the misgendering in local media and the fact that the school district, which has been previously targeted by the far-right anti-LGBTQ extremist Libs of TikTok’s creator Chaya Raichik, seems unable to grapple with anti-LGBTQ bullying.

Raichik was named to sit on an Oklahoma committee reviewing school library content by far-right leaning State Superintendent of Schools Ryan Walters.

In 2022, Raichik targeted a now former Owasso 8th grade teacher for speaking out in support of LGBTQ students who lacked acceptance from their parents. That teacher, Tyler Wrynn, was labeled a “groomer” and a predator in social media posts.

According to LGBTQ advocacy groups, Raichik’s endless targeting only seems to encourage more violence against LGBTQ youth. 

Lance Preston, the CEO of the Indianapolis-based Rainbow Youth Project, which has been working to assist queer youth in the state, posted a video expressing his frustration and anger over this death and the other anti-LGBTQ violence.

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