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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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National

Senate passes Respect for Marriage Act

Bill approved by 61-36 vote margin

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The U.S. Senate voted 61-36 on Tuesday to officially pass the Respect for Marriage Act, a historic piece of legislation that is expected to soon become law after members in the U.S. House of Representatives sign off on a bipartisan amendment added by their Senate colleagues.

Designed as a vehicle to mitigate the fallout if the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative supermajority guts the constitutional protections for marriage equality, the bill was narrowly construed — in part to help guarantee that it withstands potential challenges from conservative legal actors.

Nevertheless, the Respect for Marriage Act is a landmark bill that has been backed by virtually every LGBTQ advocacy organization in the country. The legislation repeals the Clinton-era Defense of Marriage Act while enshrining into law substantive protections for same-sex couples.

Regardless of whether or how the high court might decide to revisit the marriage question, the Respect for Marriage Act will protect the federally ordained rights and benefits that have long been enjoyed by married gay and lesbian couples. And should the court pave the way for conservative states like Texas to renew their bans on same-sex marriage, the law will require them to officially recognize and honor those that are performed in jurisdictions where they remain legal.

Despite earning broad bipartisan support from lawmakers in the House, which passed its version of the bill this summer with an overwhelming majority — including votes from 47 Republican members — the Respect for Marriage Act faced an uncertain future in the Senate.

Conservative members in the chamber’s Republican caucus argued the bill would jeopardize religious freedoms, concerns that a group of five bipartisan senators sought to allay with an amendment that, among other provisions, clarifies the right of religious nonprofit organizations to refuse “any services, facilities, or goods for the solemnization or celebration of a marriage.”

Writing the amendment were Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), who was considered the driving force behind the bill’s passage through the Senate.

Several Republican senators proposed additional amendments that — per a narrow procedural vote before and another shortly after the Thanksgiving break — were not put up for debate, thereby allowing the Respect for Marriage Act to clear the Senate with Tuesday’s vote.

Barely surpassing the 60-vote filibuster-proof majority with one extra “yea,” the Senate’s passage of the bill came despite the best efforts of conservative opponents who had run coordinated campaigns to erode support among GOP members.

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris each issued statements shortly after Tuesday’s vote.

The president celebrated the “bipartisan achievement” by Congress, writing: “For millions of Americans, this legislation will safeguard the rights and protections to which LGBTQI+ and interracial couples and their children are entitled. It will also ensure that, for generations to follow, LGBTQI+ youth will grow up knowing that they, too, can lead full, happy lives and build families of their own.”

Harris wrote: “The Respect for Marriage Act ultimately stands for a simple principle: all Americans are equal and their government should treat them that way. Today, we are one step closer to achieving that ideal with pride.”

The Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus also praised the victory.

“Today, a bipartisan group of 61 Senators made clear that this country will not roll back the clock on marriage equality,” said Congressman David Cicilline (D-R.I.), chair of the Equality Caucus. “The Respect for Marriage Act is a crucial safeguard for LGBTQ+ people whose lives have been forever changed by Obergefell v. Hodges and Americans who are in interracial marriages thanks to Loving v. Virginia. On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court declared marriage equality as the law of the land. Today, the Senate ensured those marriages will continue to be protected.”

LGBTQ groups celebrate the win

“Diverse faith traditions across the nation came together to demand respect for LGBTQ+ Americans – we staked our ground and refused to let this opportunity slip away, ” said Rev. Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, president of the Interfaith Alliance, in a statement Tuesday.

“The  LGBTQ+ community has faced ongoing deadly violence, legislative assaults and constant threats — including the deadly shooting in Colorado Springs barely one week ago,” said Kelley Robinson, president of the Human Rights Campaign, in a statement from the organization.

“Today, with the passage of the Respect for Marriage Act in the Senate — a historic moment that marks the first federal legislative win for LGBTQ+ equality in over 10 years, since the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell — the 568,000 same-sex married couples in this country can breathe a sigh of relief that their marriages will be protected from future attacks,” said Robinson, who yesterday began her tenure as the first Black queer woman to lead America’s largest LGBTQ organization.

GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis responded on Twitter and in a statement, writing: “As so many LGBTQ people face uncertainty and harm on the state level and extremists on the Supreme Court vow to reconsider the landmark Obergefell decision, this victory will provide comfort and security to millions of people and their families.”

“Today’s bipartisan vote in the Senate to pass the Respect for Marriage Act is a proud moment for our country and an affirmation that, notwithstanding our differences, we share a profound commitment to the principle of equality and justice for all,” reads a statement from National Center for Lesbian Rights Executive Director Imani Rupert-Gordon.

LGBTQ Victory Institute President Annise Parker said, “This landmark piece of legislation protects the marriages of millions of LGBTQ Americans who have not slept well for months, wondering if our marriages would be dissolved by an activist court. While the Respect for Marriage Act is undoubtedly one of the most important pro-LGBTQ laws ever passed, it does not require states to grant marriages to LGBTQ couples. Until then, our fight is not over.”

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District of Columbia

D.C. Rainbow History Project launches Trans History Initiative

$15,000 D.C. government grant funded project

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

D.C.’s Rainbow History Project announced it has launched a new project called the Trans History Initiative “to better integrate the often-under-represented histories of trans people into RHP’s existing programming.”

In a statement announcing the new initiative, the LGBTQ history group says it has been awarded a $15,000 grant from D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs to fund the project.

“The Trans History Initiative will help RHP deepen its connections with the Trans community through expanded efforts to preserve the history and cultural contributions of Washington-area trans communities,” the statement says. “The Initiative was developed with RHP’s trans members, trans community pioneers and trans board members,” it says.

The statement says the grant will enable Rainbow History Project to hire one or more coordinators to “build on four exiting RHP programs: collecting oral histories; preserving archival documents; tracking timelines and historic places; and hosting public education panels.”

According to the statement, the new trans initiative is in keeping with Rainbow History Project’s long-standing mission.

“Since its founding in 2000, RHP’s mission is to collect, preserve and promote an active knowledge of the history, arts and culture of metropolitan Washington, D.C.’s diverse LGBTQ communities,” the statement says. “RHP strives to ensure that its collection, volunteer corps and programming reflect and represent the full diversity of those communities.”

The statement also points out that due to longstanding bias and discrimination faced by transgender people it has been difficult to obtain information about their lives and accomplishments.

“Unfortunately, many trans people often left behind little record of their lives — and personal histories that do exist are often scrubbed of an individual’s trans identity by society or even their own families,” said Jeffrey Donahoe, RHP’s director of oral history.

“This revisionism, both unintentional and intentional, makes it difficult for the broader community to understand and empathize with the struggles and successes of the Trans community,” Donahoe said in the statement.

“The Trans History Initiative will counter this revisionism by giving another platform for trans people to tell their stories to the broader public,” he said. “We need to ensure that trans narratives are not lost to the ravages of time but preserved as part of the historical record.”

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State Department

U.S. diplomat says negotiations to release Brittney Griner have stalled

WNBA star remains in Russian penal colony

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

In remarks published Monday, Elizabeth Rood, the U.S. chargée d’affaires in Moscow, told Russia’s state-owned RIA news agency that talks to free jailed Americans Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan were continuing through the “designated channel.”

During the long ranging interview covering a variety of subjects, Rood was asked if she intended to visit the imprisoned WNBA star who is serving time in a Mordovian prison.

“Of course, we are going to do this as soon as the Russian authorities give us permission to visit Brittney Griner in the new colony where she was recently transferred,” the American diplomat responded and in answer to a follow-up question regarding Griner’s status. “As far as we understood from talking to her, she is healthy and doing as well as can be expected in her difficult circumstances.”

RIA then focused on the negotiations asking for some of the details including the possibility of convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout being included in the “exchange list” in the potential prisoner swap deal between the Russian and American authorities.

“I can say that the United States continues to discuss with the Russian authorities through special channels the issue of the release of Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan.  As we have already said, the United States has submitted a serious proposal for consideration. We finalized this proposal and offered alternatives. Unfortunately, the Russian Federation has so far received no serious response to these proposals, ” the U.S. chargée d’affaires answered.

“However, I would like to emphasize that the main concern and the first priority of the U.S. Embassy is to ensure the well-being of the American citizens who are here. And the situation is not limited to the names of those who are mentioned in the media headlines — a number of American citizens are kept in Russian prisons. We are extremely concerned about the condition of each of them, and we continue to follow their affairs very closely and support them in every possible way,” she added.

RIA then asked: “What did you mean by ‘serious response’ from Russia? Moscow has repeatedly stressed that the negotiations are being conducted through professional channels … What does the American side mean by “serious response”?

Rood answered telling RIA; “I mean, we have made a serious proposal that reflects our intention to take action to free American prisoners. We did not see a serious response from the Russian side to our proposal.”

“By ‘serious answer’ do you mean consent?” RIA asked in a follow-up question.

“I mean an answer that would help us come to an agreement,” she answered.

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