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The Republican presidential debate in Arizona on Wednesday night, Feb. 22, featured no direct mention of LGBT issues — and one very coded reference by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R).
In the course of giving an answer about what he meant when he said he was “severely conservative” earlier in the campaign, Romney gave several red-meat conservative answers — from abortion to immigration to adoption by gay couples.
However, when talking about adoption services that used to be offered by Catholic Charities in Massachusetts, he referred to placement in “homes where there was a mom and a dad on a preferential basis,” avoiding any direct mention of the issue that Catholic Charities had: adoptions by same-sex couples.
In fact, the reference was so subtle, that The New York Times didn’t even bother to mention it in the sentence that referenced the other two parts of Romney’s answer in Jeff Zeleny and Jim Rutenberg’s write-up of the debate:
Mr. Romney, who has struggled to win the trust of party activists, is under intense pressure to prove his conservative bona fides. He was asked about a recent statement that he was “severely conservative” when he was governor. He defined his meaning as “strict,” saying he empowered state police to enforce immigration laws, pushed English language immersion programs and “stood up and said I would stand on the side of life.”
Of course, with even former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum saying that same-sex couples raising children are a family, maybe Romney wasn’t sure how clearly he wanted to lay out that line of attack.
Romney had brought up the issue in a previous debate, incorrectly then relating the decision of Catholic Charities to stopping adoption services in the state to marriage equality there when it actually — as Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders has detailed — related to enforcement of the state’s longstanding nondiscrimination law that previously had gone unchallenged by Catholic Charities.
This time, perhaps wanting to avoid misstating the facts, Romney didn’t say the decision directly related to marriage equality, but he said that Catholic Charities “had to get out of that business” of providing adoption services — which is only true insofar as they had to get “out of that business” if they wanted to stop following a law that they had been following without objection for more than a decade at the time that the Catholic bishops in the state raised the issue.
That vague mention, nonetheless, was as close as the candidates got to discussing LGBT issues on Wednesday night.