A meeting that took place at a Virginia farmhouse between officials from Log Cabin Republicans and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney included a discussion about workplace non-discrimination, but attendees who spoke to the Washington Blade wouldn’t enumerate any commitments made by Romney.
R. Clarke Cooper, Log Cabin’s executive director, said workplace non-discrimination protections were the focus of the meeting, which took place Oct. 17 at Greenwood Farm in Leesburg, Va., which was a precursor the organization’s endorsement of the candidate announced on Tuesday.
The Log Cabin chief was non-commital when asked if he gathered from the meeting that Romney would sign a version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act if it reached his desk.
“I can say with confidence that the Romney administration would work on desirable outcomes for workplace non-discrimination,” Cooper said. “I’m going to leave it broad like that because I think there’s room for administrative action as well as legislative. I also think it’s probably fair to say that legislation in a form of an ENDA or an ENDA-like legislation is certainly realistic.”
The Nation’s Ben Adler reported that Romney secretly promised Log Cabin he would sign ENDA, but doesn’t want to make that position public for fear of upsetting the religious right. Nowhere in the current version of The Nation’s piece does Cooper say he received a commitment on ENDA. In conversations with the Blade, Cooper insisted Romney never committed to signing any legislation.
Previously, the Washington Blade reported Log Cabin was seeking clarity on ENDA before making its endorsement decision. Romney supported the legislation as a U.S. Senate candidate in 1994, but in later years backed away from that support. The GOP nominee hasn’t addressed the legislation over the course of the 2012 presidential campaign.
During the meeting, Cooper said Romney was “very interested” in talking about different state laws on workplace discrimination for LGBT people. A total of 21 states have laws barring job discrimination against gay, lesbian and bisexual people; 16 states and D.C. protect all LGBT people from job bias.
“He is aware that there is a kind of patchwork or quilt of states that don’t, and that inequity was something of discussion,” Cooper said. “Some states have it, and some states don’t and this is where it gets confusing and problematic from an administrative standpoint as well.”
Cooper said he impressed upon Romney that ENDA would be consistent with his goals for economic stimulus and job growth because many major businesses have non-discrimination policies in place and discrimination may be preventing LGBT Americans from entering the workforce.
Asked if there was any portion of the current version of the legislation to which Romney objected, Cooper said Romney didn’t express concern about any particular language and did not object to protecting people from discrimination on the basis of gender identity.
According to Cooper, the Romney campaign took the lead in initiating the meeting — not Log Cabin — after a series of discussions between the group and the campaign. Those in attendance at the meeting, which lasted about 15 minutes, were Romney, gay former U.S. House Rep. Jim Kolbe and Log Cabin staffer Casey Pick and a Romney staffer. Neither Cooper nor Kolbe would identify the campaign staffer who accompanied Romney.
Kolbe, a Log Cabin member who’s also a trustee of the organization, stopped short of saying Romney offered any firm commitments on federal workplace non-discrimination protections, but said they were discussed during the meeting.
“He gave us a firm personal view of opposing workplace discrimination without endorsing ENDA specifically,” Kolbe said. “I think that it’s an area of opportunity where we have an opportunity to make a lot of headway with him.”
Kolbe said he also brought up immigration issues affecting same-sex couples — such as the inability of gay Americans to sponsor their foreign partners for residency. Kolbe faces that problem with his own partner, Hector Alfonso. Kolbe said Romney acknowledged him by nodding, but offered no further response.
According to Cooper, the meeting was a culmination of discussions that took place between between Log Cabin and the Romney campaign on issues of concern to the organization — including LGBT issues — over the course of the year.
Cooper said he’s previously spoken to Romney — notably during an exchange following the candidate’s speech at the Conservative Political Action Committee where the Log Cabin chief said he disagreed with him on the Defense of Marriage Act — but the exchange at the farmhouse was their most extensive meeting.
“That was the most substantive meeting that we had with them,” Cooper said. “That was the culmination from dialogue meetings and information exchanges with various personnel on the campaign.”
One option that the White House has said President Obama would not take at this time is an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT workers. Both Cooper and Kolbe said that directive wasn’t discussed at the meeting, but Log Cabin has engaged with the Romney campaign previously on the issue.
Asked if the Romney campaign has offered any commitment on the executive order, Cooper replied that it would be in line with the candidate’s position that he opposes discrimination.
“I don’t want to get ahead of the governor on this, but I can tell you that was something on the table,” Cooper said.
While shying away from making any firm commitments on workplace protections, Cooper said Romney was firm deciding not to overturn “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal or hospital visitation rights for same-sex couples, which the Obama administration already mandated for hospitals receiving Medicare and Medicaid funds.
Both positions were articulated by Romney before, but Romney’s commitment to the latter came into question over the weekend when Romney adviser Bay Buchanan told Buzzfeed on Saturday Romney still supports a Federal Marriage Amendment, but believes hospital visitation should be determined by the states under the Tenth Amendment.
“There’s not going to be a retreat by President Romney on repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Cooper said. “There’s not going to be a retreat on hospital visitation.”
Cooper said he didn’t get a sense from Romney on how high a priority passing a Federal Marriage Amendment would be for the candidate, but said he impressed upon Romney the organization’s desire to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act.
“We were very, very clear not only to Gov. Romney, but to the campaign staff that were working to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act,” Cooper said. “That was part of our legislative portfolio. They clearly understood that.”
The Romney campaign didn’t immediately respond to the Washington Blade’s request for comment on the meeting.