From Evolution to Romney

News Analysis: The past week has been a study in contrasts between Obama and Romney

In the week since President Obama announced that he had ”evolved” on the issue of same-sex couples wishing to marry, the contrast between Obama and the presumptive Republican nominee, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, on LGBT issues has been stark — not the least of all because of a long-in-the-preparation Washington Post report about Romney’s prep-school days.

Obama — who spoke of meeting lesbian and gay servicemembers who felt ”constrained” because they remain unable to marry — told ABC’s Robin Roberts on May 9 that he ”think[s] same-sex couples should be able to get married.” The Post report, published online the next day, was the result of a lengthy investigation by The Washington Post‘s Jason Horowitz. Detailing what Romney described as ”hijinks” and ”pranks,” the report led off with discussion of Romney’s problem with one student’s ”bleached-blond hair that draped over one eye.”

Barack Obama

Barack Obama

(Photo by Ward Morrison)

”He can’t look like that. That’s wrong. Just look at him!” the Post reported a close friend recalling Romney having said.

The Post detailed how Romney led a group soon thereafter who tackled the student, John Lauber, and pinned him down: ”As Lauber, his eyes filling with tears, screamed for help, Romney repeatedly clipped his hair with a pair of scissors.” Romney also, according to the Post report, mocked a second student, saying ”atta girl” when the male student spoke up in class.

The Post‘s ombudsman looked into and concluded the report possibly was sped up because of Obama’s announcement, but not likely coordinated in any way with the White House — a claim unambiguously denied by the Post‘s executive editor.

Asked about the report, Romney denied recalling either incident, and told the Kilmeade and Friends Fox News radio show, ”I played a lot of pranks in high school, and they describe some that, well, you just say to yourself, ‘Back in high school, well, I did some dumb things.’ And if anybody was hurt by that or offended, obviously I apologize, but overall high school years were a long time ago.”

The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network was not satisfied with this response. In a statement, GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard said, ”Far from being ‘hijinks’ or a ‘prank,’ Romney’s behavior toward his high school classmate amounted to harassment and assault. And GLSEN remembers all too well Romney’s troubling record while he was Governor of Massachusetts on programs designed to protect LGBT youth and prevent youth suicide.

Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney

”Nearly one in five [LGBT] students will be assaulted at school this year. What would Mr. Romney propose to do as President to address this horrifying reality?”

As the Post report began spreading, Romney’s response to Obama’s marriage comments led to a second area of dispute. While restating his views opposing marriages by same-sex couples on Fox News, Romney referenced his views on adoption by same-sex couples, saying that he believes the ”best setting for raising a child” is with ”a mom and a dad … in the home” — but adding, ”I also know many gay couples are able to adopt children. That’s fine.”

The next day, he backtracked from that statement, claiming that when he said it was ”fine,” he ”[was] simply acknowledg[ing] the fact that gay adoption is legal in all states but one” — itself a misstatement of the status of the law that the Human Rights Campaign has questioned.

In a news release, HRC noted that no state specifically restricts lesbian, gay or bisexual individuals from adopting since Florida’s ban was struck down by a state court in 2011. HRC adds, however, that by law, same-sex couples cannot adopt in Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio and Utah. Second-parent adoption is explicitly legal in just 26 states and D.C., with joint adoption explicitly legal in 18 states and D.C., according to HRC.

Then, on Saturday, May 12, Romney addressed the graduates of Liberty University, the conservative evangelical-based Lynchburg, Va., school founded by Jerry Falwell, telling the students, ”The American culture promotes personal responsibility, the dignity of work, the value of education, the merit of service, devotion to a purpose greater than self, and, at the foundation, the pre-eminence of the family. As fundamental as these principles are, they may become topics of democratic debate. So it is today with the enduring institution of marriage. Marriage is a relationship between one man and one woman.”

The remarks prompted strong words from gay, conservative GOProud Executive Director Jimmy LaSalvia, who said in a statement, ”We have said since our founding in 2009, that we are committed to defeating Barack Obama. We remain committed to Obama’s defeat. However, if Governor Romney expects to be the candidate who can beat Obama in November then he needs to embrace a strategy that makes victory possible – falling into the culture war trap laid by Obama is a guaranteed electoral loser.”

In contrast, Obama spoke to Barnard College, the women’s college in New York City, Monday, May 14, tying together activism toward equal treatment of several groups by talking about ”young folks who marched and mobilized and stood up and sat in, from Seneca Falls to Selma to Stonewall” — references to significant places associated with efforts to advance women’s equality, black equality and LGBT equality. He did not, however, specifically mention his support for marriage equality, although the Barnard College president had done so in introducing him.

Hours later, addressing a fundraiser hosted by out gay father Ricky Martin, Obama did reference his statements on marriage explicitly, talking about ”the announcement I made last week about my views on marriage equality.”

It was the first time the president — any sitting president, for that matter — had referred to same-sex couples’ attempt to secure the right to marry as ”marriage equality.”

Although there are portions of Obama’s position on marriage equality that remain to be fleshed out — for example, will he speak out on ballot measures more forcefully this fall than he has done in the past — and other issues remain unresolved with LGBT advocates — for example, the White House decision April 11 not to issue an executive order banning federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity — the past week provided an undeniable contrast between Romney and Obama on several key issues of concern to LGBT advocates and voters.

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