Romney's Gay Marriage Challenge

What does he mean by "domestic partnership"?

Last Thursday, the day after President Obama finally endorsed gay marriage, his campaign released a video that faults his presumptive Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, for not doing likewise. "President Obama is moving us forward," the ad says. "Mitt Romney would take us back."

In a sense, Obama is the one going back, returning to a position he took as a political novice in 1996. But the same changes in public opinion that made it thinkable for him to stop equivocating on gay marriage present a challenge to Romney as he repositions himself for the general election.

Sixteen years ago, when Obama supported "legalizing same-sex marriages" as a candidate for the Illinois Senate, a Gallup poll found that only 27 percent of Americans agreed with him. According to a Gallup poll conducted this month, that number has risen to 50 percent.

A new CBS News poll indicates that support for legal recognition of gay couples (not necessarily "marriage") is even higher. Thirty-eight percent of respondents said "gay couples should be allowed to marry," while another 24 percent said they should be "allowed to form civil unions." Only 33 percent favored "no legal recognition." Surveys during the last few years have yielded similar results.

In short, "no legal recognition" for gay couples clearly has become a minority position, which poses a problem for Romney. The former Massachusetts governor has opposed same-sex marriage since the beginning of his political career, and he favors a constitutional amendment that "defines marriage as a relationship between a man and woman."

The Obama campaign's video implies that Romney—unlike Obama's Republican predecessor, George W. Bush—also opposes civil unions, but that is not true. Since running for governor in 2002, Romney has said he supports "domestic partnerships" for same-sex couples that include "the potential for health benefits and rights of survivorship." What else they might include is not entirely clear, and this is the tricky part for a candidate trying to keep social conservatives happy without alienating swing voters by seeming intolerant or insensitive to the problems gay couples face because of their unequal legal treatment.

Romney's idea of domestic partnerships clearly does not go as far as the civil unions that Obama favored until last week (which he said would provide "all the rights" of marriage). "I do not favor marriage between people of the same gender," Romney said after Obama's announcement, "and I don’t favor civil unions if they’re identical to marriage other than by name."

But contrary to the Obama campaign's video, Romney does support shared health plans as well as joint adoption. "If two people of the same gender want to live together, want to have a loving relationship and even want to adopt a child," he said on Fox News last week, "in my view that's something that people have the right to do."

Already this is dangerous territory as far as social conservatives are concerned, which explains why Romney's campaign later insisted he was only explaining what Massachusetts and many other states allow. "He thinks a traditional family is far better for children," a spokeswoman told CNN, but "he acknowledges it's a state issue" and "did nothing to change it" as governor of Massachusetts.

As that whipsawing statement suggests, federalism will get Romney only so far, especially since he has chosen to nationalize the issue by calling for a constitutional ban on gay marriage. If the ban does not apply to civil unions, it will not stop states from allowing legal arrangements "identical to marriage" but for the name, which Romney says he opposes. But if the federal government tries to prevent those, states won't really be free to "make decisions with regard to domestic partnership benefits," the approach he says he favors.

Romney is not the only Republican with conflicting impulses on gay marriage. In the CBS News survey, 70 percent of Republicans supported a constitutional ban, while 63 percent said the issue should be left to the states.

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason and a nationally syndicated columnist. Follow him on Twitter.

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  • BigT||

    Why can't Romney simply say that he believes in the right of a free people to enter into contracts freely, and that in the eyes of the state marriage is a contract. No need to get involved.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    Because the evangelicals would pitch a fucking fit.

  • Rich||

    So to speak.

  • BigT||

    Since running for governor in 2002, Romney has said he supports "domestic partnerships" for same-sex couples that include "the potential for health benefits and rights of survivorship."

    He is essentially saying that people can enter into contracts, just don't call them marriage.

  • sarcasmic||

    But, but, but... Separate but equal!

    If you insist that you use different words to describe different things then you're a hate monger!

    The proper solution is to rename the contract from "marriage" to "smurf".

  • Papa Smurf||

    If you insist that you use different words to describe different things then you're a hate monger!

    The proper solution is to rename the contract from "marriage" to "smurf".

    HATE MONGER!!

  • BoscoH||

    Yes, but only among pairs of oppositely sexed evangelicals.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    I think a significant contingent of the same-sex marriage rights group wants to use a marriage license as a certificate of cultural acceptance. Civil union contracts probably won't cut it with them. And I doubt the Christian Right (who Romney thinks he needs) will see it as far enough removed from the sacred institution of marriage.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    That, and a smaller but by no means trivial subset want to use the term 'marriage' as a way to force individuals people and organizations to validate their lifestyles by branding any resistance as hate mongering bigotry.

  • sarcasmic||

    That is exactly it.

  • T o n y||

    If you don't have such strong emotions then why do you care so passionately that gays not get the word "marriage"?

  • Azathoth!!||

    You already got the word 'gay'--how many other words do you need?!

  • SIV||

    significant contingent = ALL

  • ||

    Gotta love socons' grip on reality - the economy's in the crapper, so let's worry about who's most anti-gay

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    From the new book UnChristian

    When asked by The Barna Group what words or phrases best describe Christianity, the top response among Americans ages 16-29 was "antihomosexual." For a staggering 91 percent of non-Christians, this was the first word that came to their mind when asked about the Christian faith. The same was true for 80 percent of young churchgoers.

    I blame FOTF, FRC, Wildmon's group, etc...

    They use fear of homosexuality as a touchstone for fundraising. The more they beat the drum, the more scare tactics they use, the more money they can raise. The side-effect is a loss of rationality in the national debate as more and more of their followers accept their rantings as articles of faith. They're not interested in the proper role of government, they're just interested in how they can bend government to their will, to benefit them.

  • sarcasmic||

    They're not interested in the proper role of government, they're just interested in how they can bend government to their will, to benefit them.

    I think that describes everyone except libertarians.

  • ¿Ex Nihilo?||

    I think that describes everyone except libertarians anarchists.

    Even libertarians want governemnt to benefit them. But by benefiting libertarians, it also benefits everyone else. I want government to protect my life, liberty and property.

  • sarcasmic||

    I want government to protect my life, liberty and property.

    Which is the proper role of government.

  • ¿Ex Nihilo?||

    Which is the proper role of government.

    Now if we could only convince the vast majority of people of this.

  • sarcasmic||

    Most people just want their free shit.

  • ||

    Most people just want their free other people's shit for free.

    FTFY

  • sarcasmic||

    The purpose of government is to protect your right to private property, while also giving you a claim to the private property of people who have more of it than you.

    "What's mine is mine and what's yours is mine."

  • T o n y||

    So the purpose of government is to take from me to provide armed security for your property? You are an evil thiever.

    I say the purpose of government is to take from you to provide me with healthcare. And I have exactly the same moral justification you do. Arguably more so, since healthcare is more fundamentally necessary to life than property is.

  • ||

    God Damn you are retarded Tony.

  • ||

    I say the purpose of government is to take from you to provide me with healthcare.

    Your care of your health is up to you, Tony.

    Put a gun to my head to make me provide you medical care, and you will find a very unwilling person to do so.

    Also, FUCK OFF SLAVER!

    Health care =/= Medical care.

  • T o n y||

    Fine, then your defense of your "property" is up to you, and you can stop stealing from me to pay for the service. Good luck with that.

  • ||

    Good luck with that.

    Thank you. Expy'ing to UKR can not come fast enough. Tootles.

  • ||

    Tony just became an anarcho capitalist. Awesome.

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    Unless I misread the article, the Democrats made this ad worrying about who's more anti-gay.

  • ||

    Clearly, this pressing issue is the most important in this MOST IMPORTANT ELECTIONZ IN OUR LIFETIMEZ!!!!one1!

    Economy? What's that? Unemployment? Oh, that's the new normal, silly. Impotent WoD? An afterthought. ObamneyCare? Crap, got knee-capped on that one.

    Of the two, Flopney has the more correct argument. The most correct, of course, is the elimination of the state in the marriage business, full stop. Since the odds of Flopney endorsing that idea is less than him disavowing his part in legitimizing ObamneyCare, I suppose his position will have to do. Sod, I feel dirty...I so hate this man.

    I thought the point of the TEA party and support for Ron Paul was to shove social issues to the side and concentrate on economic liberty, personal liberty and at least a step in the decentralization of Federalism. Even Gary Johnson is making social issues an integral part of his platform and I would be totally comfortable with a GJ presidency, but social issues are not at the top of my menu.

    What ever happened to, "It's the economy, stoopid!" Sullum?

  • sarcasmic||

    I thought the point of the TEA party and support for Ron Paul was to shove social issues to the side and concentrate on economic liberty, personal liberty and at least a step in the decentralization of Federalism.

    Emotional issues are what win elections.
    Abortion, gay marriage, wealth envy, shit like that.

    Those "independent swing voters" who decide the election do so on what they feel, not what they think.

    If they used their brains they wouldn't be undecided.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    He's so Presidential

  • ||

    Emotional issues are what win elections.

    This is so true, unfortunately. Matt Ridley is still proven correct.

    If they used their brains they wouldn't be undecided.

    Every voter is a single issue voter, without exception. While not lacking importance, this is not my single issue.

  • sarcasmic||

    Every voter is a single issue voter, without exception.

    Really? I didn't know I was a single issue voter. Thank you for informing me of this. Now if I could only figure out what my single issue is.

  • Lord Humungus||

    I bet it's something sticky.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    If Kate Moss were running for President, we know how you would vote.

  • sarcasmic||

    My vote would be sha-wing!

  • ||

    PWND!

  • ||

    Now if I could only figure out what my single issue is.

    The specific one that appears in your mind when you pull the lever or at least motivates you to vote. Or, if you opt not to vote, there will be one issue paramount in a bushel basket of issues that will prevent you from doing so.

    And you're welcome, admirer of Kate Moss.:-)

  • sarcasmic||

    When I vote it is always against the greater of two evils.

    I can't remember the last time I voted for anyone or anything.

  • ||

    When I vote it is always against the greater of two evils.

    Then self-preservation of your lot in life is your issue and perfectly rational.

    I can't remember the last time I voted for anyone or anything.

    I can; Ron Paul.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    My issue is liberty.

  • General Butt Naked||

    Of the two, Flopney has the more correct argument.

    You must be a lot better at parsing through nuance bullshit than me, because I cannot for the life of me suss out what Romney's argument even is.

    The most correct, of course, is the elimination of the state in the marriage business, full stop.

    Me, I'm on the fence with this one. I know that since the gay marriage debate has started this stance has become fairly popular in libertarian circles, but I'm not convinced as of yet.

    Most insurance companies and employers will recognize a same sex relationship as marriage with regards to benefits so this isn't really an issue. There are things like not compelling spouses to testify against each other or privileged communications that only be possible if government recognizes the contract of marriage as something distinct.

    Also, things like property transfer at death, joint legal ownership of shared assets, and power of attourney over medical decisions in the event of sudden catastrophe are a few things that are more iron-clad-ly taken care of with a civil union/marriage a than a (living)will.

    If we accept that marriage is merely a contract, and I do, I don't understand the difference between going to a lawyer and having all of the parameters of a marriage written out in long form and signing it and getting married by a justice of the peace.

  • General Butt Naked||

    CHARACTER LIMIT

    ... Either way, the government is needed to enforce the contract (which is one of the very few legitimate functions of government).

  • sarcasmic||

    If we accept that marriage is merely a contract

    Obviously it is more than a mere contract. It is a word that means something.

    That is what the fight is over. The meaning of the word.

  • General Butt Naked||

    Okay, I'll coin a new term, it's 'love contract' and legally it's the exact same thing as marriage but gay people are also allowed to enter into a 'love contract'.

    And after they get home from the justice of the peace, they can take a sharpie and black out the words 'love contract' and write in 'marriage'. And it won't make one goddamn bit of difference. It won't affect anybody's lives.

  • sarcasmic||

    No compromise will be accepted that does not include redefining marriage.

    Therefore it is not about the contract. It is about the word.

  • General Butt Naked||

    It just seems so stoopid to me, that both sides are intractably holding on to what a fucking word means.

    Hell, in the eyes of the law marriage only means a certain contract that a man and a woman can enter into. Changing that to include same sex couples doesn't change what you or others believe to be holy matrimony. What determines holy matrimony is not determined by the government and cannot be without first amendment ramifications.

  • T o n y||

    On what other civil rights do you think it's appropriate to "compromise"?

    You seem to have as much of an emotional investment in the word as those you accuse. You're supposed to be a libertarian, right? So who the fuck are you to tell people they can't be married if that's what they want?

  • ||

    If you haven't figured out by now that sarcasmic doesn't give a flying shit about this issue you haven't been paying attention.

    His point is that if it was about the legal aspects of protecting your loved one from the state or family interfering with your life, just about anything could be set up to do that. But the insistence on it being called "marriage" belies that that is not the main impetus behind the movement.

  • sarcasmic||

    If you haven't figured out by now that Tony does not argue in good faith you haven't been paying attention.

  • ||

    True, true sarc. Broke my own rule of not talking to him.

  • T o n y||

    Why does he care what the impetus is? If gay people want equal marriage rights why can't they have them? Bonus points for a libertarian defense of that position.

  • ||

    I cannot for the life of me suss out what Romney's argument even is.

    For whatever reason, and there appears to a few, he stops short of the word "marriage".

    FTA:

    Since running for governor in 2002, Romney has said he supports "domestic partnerships" for same-sex couples that include "the potential for health benefits and rights of survivorship."

    This is his position. Obama's, as Sarcasmic points out, is over the word, and is a single issue, emotional position.

  • General Butt Naked||

    He also says:

    "and I don’t favor civil unions if they’re identical to marriage other than by name."

    Which is why I really can't decide what he's for. What are the things that would be different in legally recognized domestic partnerships than with civil unions or marriage. Ol' Flopney wants to please everybody, and as with most issues, he's a goddamn coward and won't take a stand either way.

    This election is going to be two empty vessels vying for people's projections.

  • ||

    Agreed. This is super weaselly and requires clarification. Which is why I despise him so. "Civil Unions" is not a dirty word, and if you want to call yourselves "married", I really don't give a shit.

  • ||

    power of attourney over medical decisions in the event of sudden catastrophe

    Speaking as a doc, and in specialty that demands the presence of both a DNR and DPOA preference on record before I even think of putting you on the table, this one is a non-issue.

    Medical decisions can be arbitrated to anyone the patient decides to name. If worse comes to worse, and I have to be on very solid clinical grounds to do so, under State of OK law, I can override this. I require three affidavits consisting of: me and my medical rationale; one specialist in the area of the offending disease process and another physician, usually a hospitalist, and all opinions must be in complete agreement and congruent. Then a call is made to in-house counsel who has a judge on speed dial for an injunction. Thankfully, these situation are few and far between. If there is no next of kin or person named in a DNR or DPOA, then Dr. Groove makes these decisions (and I have. And it isn't fun.)

    Otherwise, in these events, DPOA rules the roost WRT to medical decisions and I am bound by law to execute those decisions, absent a contention of the DPOA, which happens just as much to straight couples (if not more) as it does gay couples.

    Just my 0.02 and my anecdotal experience.

  • General Butt Naked||

    I don't know what the Detroit Police Officers Association has to do with this discussion, but you're the expert.

    Serious question though, if a guy comes in unconscious after a serious car accident and the boyfriend advocates one measure and the mother advocates another who is listened to? Or if the guy's wife advocates one course of action and the mother another?

    Not asking rhetorically, I'd actually like to know.

  • ||

    This is why having these documents is so important.

    Strictly speaking, for the sake of argument:

    Scenario 1: Momma wins.

    Scenario 2: Wifey wins.

  • ||

    So if that boyfriend was legally recognized as husband, then husband would trump Momma?

    And Scenario 1 could just as easily apply to a straight could too right?

  • ||

    You win a Kewpie doll.

  • ||

    Sweet!

  • Bob Straub||

    What we call marriage now has more complications than can be signed onto in a lawyer's office, IMO. For one thing, what about filing separately vs. jointly on income tax? Wouldn't that involve the IRS and other government agencies, state and local, which are not assumed to be signatories, are they?

    Equality before the law requires that everything about marriage as currently interpreted must apply to all couples. Call it marriage, or call it something else, but whatever you call it, it should be the only way that couples achieve that legal status.

    BTW, I think that it's pointless to use the word "love" and derivatives when talking about this. Why shouldn't any two consenting adults be allowed to acquire the desired status, adopt children, file jointly, have survivorship benefits, etc.? What's the difference between allowing a single person to adopt and allowing any two appropriately recognized people to do that? There are probably lots of marriages wherein love is absent, but we don't require divorce in those cases.

  • Lord Humungus||

    er, Romney just went up a few points in the polls - whether it was economic reasons or gay marrige, who can tell. But right or wrong, why would he reposition himself on this?

  • ||

    But right or wrong, why would he reposition himself on this?

    He's shooting himself in the foot before anyone else can. Preemptive strikes ensure success.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    But right or wrong, why would he reposition himself on this?

    Because then the socialist press would have to find another issue to use in their smears.

  • luohuluohu||

    This is really a hottest topic.everbody has their different opinion.

  • Rich||

    AnonBot?

  • ||

    This is Coachborg, but the premise is similar.

  • ||

    Skynet marches on.

  • Almanian...still||

    I find your ideas intriguing and would like to subscribe to your newsletter catalogue

  • db||

    I'm going to file this under "Semen."

  • ||

    Stop pretending you have other categories

  • Rich||

    "single issue"

  • db||

    There is only one other category.

  • Rich||

    Perhaps. But in the end, there can be only one.

  • ¿Ex Nihilo?||

    santorum?

  • db||

    "Jim Morrison."

  • John||

    It is not a challenge at all. Romney just needs to shut up about it and keep talking about the economy. Let Obama tie himself in knots and offend half the country.

  • Rich||

    The GOP is not called "The Stupid Party" for nothing.

  • ||

    Hey, I thought they were the evil party and the Dems were the stupid party?

    Oh, I'm so lost in this mad, mad world.

  • ||

    They both stupid, and they're both evil.

  • Rrabbit||

    The stupid and evil feel insulted.

  • BoscoH||

    But that's not what Obama is doing. He is trying to bait Romney. One thing we know about Obama is that he is a master baiter.

  • sarcasmic||

    Links?

  • Almanian...still||

    "They're What's For Breakfast!®"

  • ||

    By 9:30, I'm sure. Weird, though, since the pattern seemed to be to have them out before 9 recently.

  • db||

    A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of minds who expect to get paid for their services.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    Riggs is busy waiting for the Diablo 3 servers to come back up.

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    Damn server was full of lag spikes this morning. Got my softcore toon killed; I think I'll hold off for a while on leveling my hardcore toon past where she is now.

  • plu1959||

    "The Democrats are harping on this issue for one reason only: they want us to forget about the economy. Now, I know gay marriage is an important issue for many of you, and I promise you this -- as president, I will not advocate for any measures to legalize gay marriage, and I will veto any bill that would legalize gay marriage. Now that I've made that clear, let's stop dancing to Obama's tune and focus on the economy."

    Done.

  • Almanian...still||

    Whatever

    KULTUR WARRRzzZ!111!!!one!!

  • Rasilio||

    You know, normally I like Jacobs work but the level of stupid in this article is astounding.

    No, Romney does not have a Gay Marriage problem.

    Sure his views are out of line with the majorities, the problem is that there are small energized bases on either side of the issue and a large morass of people in the middle who might agree with either side or fall somewhere in the middle with the views but do not particularly care that much about it in anything but an academic sense.

    Thing is, Romney will not gain any votes from the hardcore pro gay marriage crowd even if he comes out fully in favor of a constitutional protection of gay marriage and his not being in line with the mainstream will not cost him any votes from the relatively disinterested mass in the center.

    Gay marriage is literally a non issue for Romney because no matter what his position on it it won't impact his vote total by more than a fraction of a percent come November

  • landy yuan||

    People have the right to freedom of choice.
    shearstuds.net

  • Azathoth!!||

    Why do people keep citing 'polls' that claim to show support for gay marriage increasing when the only times we've seen the people ACTUALLY polled--in the voting booth--the people loudly and clearly say 'no'?

    Even in California.

    Have people suddenly--since last week, when there was another actual poll--become enlightened? Are all those voters beating their breasts with remorse after voting against gay marriage last week?

    No.

    This pretense of support does nothing except falsely rais expectation. As someone who listened, I can tell you that I was shocked and disappointed when my states anti-gay marriage law was passed.

  • jason||

    This is the main topic in these days that what the president thinks about this matter as state head president obama backlash in this matter.

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