August 30, 2012 at 5:51 am EDT | by Chris Johnson
RNC 2012: Ryan praises Romney as ‘defender of marriage’

Republican Vice Presidential Nominee Paul Ryan addresses the Republican National Convention (Blade photo by Michael Key)

TAMPA, Fla. — Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan devoted a key speech Wednesday evening to attacking the current administration while praising Mitt Romney and his record as a “defender of marriage.”

During his address before the Republican National Convention, Ryan brought up marriage while explaining Republican presidential nominee Romney’s dedication to his faith, saying, “Not only a defender of marriage, he offers an example of marriage at its best.”

Although Ryan never explicitly mentioned marriage rights for gay couples in his remarks, Romney’s opposition to marriage equality is well known. In addition to speaking out against same-sex marriage — as well as civil unions — over the course of the Republican primary season, Romney was recently revealed to have donated $10,000 to efforts to pass California’s Proposition 8 in 2008 through a political action committee.

The records of the two candidates on the Republican ticket aligned. Romney backs a U.S. constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage throughout the country; Ryan voted for such an amendment in 2004 and 2006. Similarly, Romney has criticized the Obama administration for no longer defending the Defense of Marriage Act in court while Ryan voted to reaffirm the anti-gay law on the House floor.

But the remarks on marriage were a small portion of a speech largely devoted to blaming President Obama for the economic problems facing the country and saying Romney’s experience as governor of Massachusetts and an entrepreneur at Bain Capital is the medicine needed to cure the nation of its ailments.

Responding to attacks from the Obama campaign depicting Romney as a ruthless venture capitalist who terminated positions and sent jobs overseas, Ryan said Romney helped start companies and restructure failing ones, adding, “By the way, being successful in business – that’s a good thing.”

“Mitt has not only succeeded, but succeeded where others could not,” Ryan said. “He turned around the Olympics at a time when a great institution was collapsing under the weight of bad management, overspending, and corruption – sounds familiar, doesn’t it?”

Ryan, a seven-term member of Congress who chairs the House Budget Committee, also appeared to defend his own record by saying his ticket would “protect and strengthen” Medicare while Obama’s policies — particularly the health care reform law — have threatened it. As a member of House Republican leadership, Ryan has proposed budget plans that would zero out funding for Medicare in favor of vouchers with private companies.

“Even with all the hidden taxes to pay for the health care takeover, even with new taxes on nearly a million small businesses, the planners in Washington still didn’t have enough money,” Ryan said. “So, they just took it all away from Medicare. Seven hundred and sixteen billion dollars, funneled out of Medicare by President Obama. An obligation we have to our parents and grandparents is being sacrificed, all to pay for a new entitlement we didn’t even ask for. The greatest threat to Medicare is Obamacare, and we’re going to stop it.”

Ryan, 42 and the first person belonging to Generation X to run on a major party presidential ticket, also seemed to attempt to reach out to younger voters. Ryan said he was urged to play music proposed by Romney at campaign rallies, but replied, “I hope it’s not a deal-breaker Mitt, but my playlist starts with AC/DC, and ends with Zeppelin.”

This outreach to younger voters played out as part of the general theme of the economic malaise impacting those who may have voted for Obama.

“College graduates should not have to live out their 20s in their childhood bedrooms, staring up at fading Obama posters and wondering when they can move out and get going with life,” Ryan said. “Everyone who feels stuck in the Obama economy is right to focus on the here and now. And I hope you understand this too, if you’re feeling left out or passed by: You have not failed, your leaders have failed you.”

Delegates at the Republican National Convention cheer on Paul Ryan (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Ryan was well-received by the audience. Those in attendance at the Republican convention shouted in excitement when he talked about the path Romney has pledged to take the country and weren’t shy about offering boos when Ryan talked about the purported dangers of health care reform.

Political observers generally agreed Ryan’s speech positioned him in the vice presidential nominee’s traditional role as “attack dog” for the candidate at the top of the ticket. Meanwhile, LGBT political organizations responded to Ryan’s speech in accordance with their own views.

Jerame Davis, executive director of the National Stonewall Democrats, honed in on Ryan’s mention of Romney as a “defender of marriage” as a reason why the LGBT community should be wary of the Republican presidential ticket.

“Paul Ryan’s dog-whistle reference to Mitt Romney as a ‘defender of marriage’ is as cheap as it is transparent,” Davis said. “I can think of about 18,000 marriages Mitt Romney actively worked to destroy when he donated more than $10,000 to the Prop 8 campaign in California. Sadly, that was only the tip of the iceberg of lies and half-truths that riddled Ryan’s speech tonight.”

Jimmy LaSalvia, executive director of the gay conservative group GOProud, said Ryan “delivered a stirring speech” demonstrating his knowledge that the greatest issue facing all voters — gay or straight — is the state of the economy.

“Whether you are gay or straight, you deserve an administration that will tackle this issue and an administration that has a plan to grow our economy and create jobs,” LaSalvia said.

Additionally, LaSalvia said he’s spoken with Ryan and believes the vice presidential candidate knows the challenges facing the gay community.

“I have sat in Paul Ryan’s congressional office and talked to him about the special challenges that face gay people and gay couples in this country and how his plans to reform Social Security, Medicare, health care and our tax code would actually help gay Americans,” LaSalvia said. “I can tell you first hand that Paul Ryan gets it when it comes to dealing with the challenges that face the gay community.”

Ryan voted in favor of a sexual orientation-only version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in Congress.

As with the speeches on Tuesday night, the remarks from other speakers onstage at the Republican convention largely avoided social issues or matters directly affecting the LGBT community, but instead focused on the economy, health care reform and taking Obama to task for his remarks that individuals “didn’t build” their businesses because they had help from others in society.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (Blade photo by Michael Key)

But that wasn’t the case across the board. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, now a TV personality on Fox News, criticized Obama for supporting marriage equality, saying it’s evidence he doesn’t adhere to his faith.

“Of the four people on the two tickets, the only self-professed evangelical is Barack Obama, and he supports changing the definition of marriage, believes that human life is disposable and expendable at any time in the womb or even beyond the womb, and tells people of faith that they must bow their knees to the god of government and violate their faith and conscience in order to comply with what he calls health care,” Huckabee said.

Another high-profile speech came Condoleezza Rice, the former national security adviser and secretary of state under the Bush administration.

Rice never mentioned the Obama administration by name even as she said Romney and Ryan understand the importance of the United States having a leadership role in foreign affairs.

Former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice (Blade photo by Michael Key)

“But if we are not inspired to lead again, one of two things will happen – no one will lead and that will foster chaos — or others who do not share our values will fill the vacuum,” Rice said. “My fellow Americans, we do not have a choice. We cannot be reluctant to lead – and one cannot lead from behind.”

LaSalvia made a special note of Rice’s speech in his statement following the night’s speeches, saying she gave a “powerful and optimistic speech.”

“She spoke eloquently about the best our country has to offer – to each other, to the world,” LaSalvia said. “She gave a speech that reminded many of those in the convention hall of the great speeches of former President Ronald Reagan.”

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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