Although Mitt Romney reiterated his opposition to allowing gay couples to marry on Wednesday, he avoided talk of "protecting" or "defending" marriage and instead spoke of gay couples' "loving" relationships.
At the Univision "Meet the Candidates" forum held on Wednesday night, Romney was asked by moderator Jorge Ramos what advice the presidential candidate would have for his children, grandchildren or other relatives if they were gay and came to him and said they wanted to get married. Romney's answer was not substantively different than his past answers, but the answer's tone reflects the quickly shifting ground on the issue. And the setting was particularly notable: Republicans not long ago saw marriage as an issue with which to court Hispanic Catholics.
Romney seemed deliberately to avoid more conservative elements of his position. Although Ramos referred to Romney's stated support for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex couples from marrying, Romney mentioned neither that proposed amendment nor his support for the federal Defense of Marriage Act in his answer.
Noting that same-sex couples can be "living in a loving relationship together," Romney said that such couples could have a "domestic partnership." To that end, he added, "I can see rights, such as hospital visitation rights, and similar types of things, being provided to those individuals."
Romney's reference to gay couples "living in a loving relationship together" is an unusual acknowledgment from Romney of love between gay and lesbian couples.
The nation's largest LGBT political group, the Human Rights Campaign, found the answer to be illuminating but, ultimately, not important for this election.
"It is a measure of how far we have come that the Republican candidate for president is using words like 'loving' in describing our relationships," HRC vice president for communications Fred Sainz said, noting that the comments come from "the standard-bearer of the platform that Tony Perkins wrote."
Sainz added, though, "At the end of the day, it means nothing. The only thing that he will reference as a privilege of the 'domestic partnerships' he discusses is hospital visitation — which we already have. So, I'd say, 'One right down, 1,192 to go, Gov. Romney.'"
Additionally, Romney said at the Univision forum that same-sex couples "should be able to ... raise a family as they would choose" — a line that would appear to support gay parents adopting children, an issue on which the candidate has given conflicting statements in the past.
The Romney campaign played down the comment, with spokesman Ryan Williams telling BuzzFeed today, "Gov. Romney has consistently said that gay adoption should be assessed on a state-by-state basis — not at the federal level."
Similarly, in May, Romney gave an interview one day that appeared to support gay parents adopting children, but the next day he clarified that he was only "acknowledg[ing]" that such adoptions are legal in many states.
Sainz, whose organization has endorsed President Obama's re-election, said, "It's lipstick on a pig to me. No matter what words he uses, they aren't policy. While an important human connection, it doesn't give us any of the protections that our community needs."
Romney's full Univision answer about the advice he would give a gay family member who wanted to get married:
My kids are all married, so I'd be surprised. But I have grandchildren. I love my children and my grandchildren, and I would of course want them to be happy.
My view is this, that individuals should be able to pursue a relationship of love and respect and raise a family as they would choose. I would like to have the term 'marriage' continue to be associated with a relationship between one man and one woman.
That certainly doesn't prevent two people of the same gender, living in a loving relationship together, having a domestic partnership if you will. I can see rights, such as hospital visitation rights, and similar types of things, being provided to those individuals. But marriage, for me, continues to be a relationship between a man and a woman.