In 2003, Massachusetts became the first state to legalize gay marriage, just ten months into the first year of Mitt Romney’s term as Governor. The Massachusetts Supreme court ruled that preventing marriage between same-sex couples was discrimination and that they had the right to marry under the law. Romney found himself thrust into a debate centering on legal rights and family values.
Romney campaigned against gay marriage in 2002.
"Call me old fashioned, but I don't support gay marriage nor do I support civil union," Romney declared at an October 2002 gubernatorial debate. Romney voiced his support for basic domestic partnership benefits like hospital visitation rights.
Following the court’s ruling Romney briefly endorsed civil union legislation in 2003, seeing the partnership as the lesser of two evils, and joined with top Democrats in the legislature craft such a bill. The court’s ruling wouldn’t take effect for 180 days and Romney saw an opportunity to crush the ruling before it went into effect.
"Under that (the court’s) opinion, I believe that a civil union type provision would be sufficient," Romney said. "I believe their decision indicates that a provision which provided benefits, obligation, rights, and responsibilities, which are consistent with marriage but perhaps could be called by a different name, would be in conformity with their decision."
The Massachusetts Supreme Court had already stated that civil union legislation wouldn’t satisfy the court’s ruling and Romney’s moved was described as “purely tactical” Passing an amendment on civil unions would have required additional approval from the state legislature in 2005 and a ballot initiative in 2006, and the Romney administration hoped it would influence the court to delay their ruling taking effect. The effort eventually fell apart.
Romney soon decided the best approach was to undermine the court’s ruling in anyway possible. Using a 1913 law put in place to stop out-of-state couples from marrying in Massachusetts, Romney barred same-sex couples from coming to the state with the sole perhaps of marrying. The law originally intended to stop interracial marriages. Romney proudly touts the effort today saying he “stopped Massachusetts from becoming the Las Vegas of gay marriage.”
At the center of debate the in Massachusetts, Romney found himself in the midst of national politics when an amendment was proposed to the Constitution barring same-sex marriage. Romney testified before the Senate Committee Judiciary Committee in support of the measure saying, “the children of America have a right to have a mother and a father."
Romney has often tiptoed on gay rights issues ever since. During both Republican primaries he has touted his efforts to stop same-sex marriage and in one 2007 interview declined to answer whether homosexually was a mental defect saying, “I’m not going to suggest in anyway a psychologist. That’s a decision a psychologist would have to tell ya and I’m not going to weigh in on that.”
Since President Obama came out in favor of same-sex marriage in an interview with ABC News Wednesday, the issue of same-sex marriage is likely to become front and center in the 2012 campaign, and become a key wedge issue between the two candidates.