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Obama and Romney met three times throughout October, sharing a stage for more than six hours to debate the issues of the day. Despite addressing social issues like gun control and discrimination against women, the two men were never asked about their contrasting views on a range of LGBT issues.
Only briefly during the end of the first debate did Obama note his administration’s work to repeal ”Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which he has been highlighting at stops along the campaign trail for months.
Writing for The Washington Post on Oct. 22, Jonathan Capehart said the lack of focus on LGBT issues wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it may well be a good thing.
”Sure, there are plenty of issues facing lesbians, gay men and bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Americans that ought to be discussed,” Capehart wrote. ”But after years of gays being used in bigoted ways as wedges in American politics by Democrats and Republicans, the silence is a blessed relief.”
Although Capehart argued that no discussion of LGBT issues symbolizes a broader shift in the views of voters toward key issues like marriage equality, not everyone agrees.
”It’s disappointing,” Dustin Lance Black, the gay activist and screenwriter of Milk, said of the failure to mention LGBT issues after the first debate last month.
”I’m always disheartened because I feel like whenever we talk about gay and lesbian equality we have an opportunity to get the truth out and that is what changes minds,” Black told Metro Weekly during the Human Rights Campaign’s national dinner. ”The more people learn about gay and lesbian equality, the more people end up taking our side. And once they’ve come to the side of equality they almost never leave.”
”I hope the nation knows where these two people stand on equality, because they have very, very different stances when it comes to LGBT equality,” Black added.
Gov. Mitt Romney
(Photo by John Moore)
Indeed, Mitt Romney’s record on LGBT-rights is a conflicted one. The man who vowed in 1994 to be better on gay rights than Ted Kennedy has shifted from what were moderate views at the start of his political career to views more in line with the hard right of the Republican Party.
Like his opponents during the Republican primaries, Romney signed the National Organization for Marriage pledge supporting a federal marriage amendment and the Defense of Marriage Act, the nomination of judges opposed to same-sex marriage, a referendum on marriage equality in D.C., and the establishment of a presidential commission on religious liberty.
Romney’s views on two issues in particular — workplace discrimination and adoption rights — are receiving more attention in the closing days of the campaign.
After Log Cabin Republicans endorsed Romney on Oct. 23, just two weeks before Election Day, LCR Executive Director R. Clarke Cooper fueled speculation that Romney’s position on workplace nondiscrimination could be shifting. In a phone interview minutes after the endorsement was announced, Cooper said “actual tangibles” were discussed with the Romney campaign, including workplace nondiscrimination, but he did not name any specific promises.
“We walked through things he could do as president and it’s safe to say in a Romney presidency there are some tangibles there that he has experience on as governor that I believe we will see in place and practice,” Cooper said.
Despite speculation from other news outlets, Cooper has denied that a secret deal had been struck between Romney and LCR for his support of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in return for LCR’s endorsement.
Romney has said he opposes ENDA and believes such protections should be implemented at the state level. It does not appear Romney’s position has changed since he stated it on NBC’s Meet the Press in December 2007. Speaking to host Tim Russert, Romney said workplace nondiscrimination should be implemented at the state rather than the federal level.
“I don’t believe in discriminating against someone based upon their sexual orientation,” Romney said. “And so I would be effective in trying to bring greater recognition of the, of the rights of people not, not to be discriminated against.”
Russert’s questions revolved around a promise Romney made to LCR in a 1994 letter while seeking their endorsement during his Senate race against Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy. In the letter, Romney promised to become a co-sponsor of ENDA, originally sponsored by Kennedy himself, if elected to the Senate. Romney also promised to broaden ENDA to include protections for housing and credit.
“If we are to achieve the goals we share, we must make equality for gays and lesbians a mainstream concern,” Romney wrote. “My opponent cannot do this. I can and will.”
Romney lost his race against Kennedy and, after serving as governor of Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007, evolved on ENDA. Speaking to National Journal in 2006, Romney said he no longer supported ENDA, a statement he would reiterate during his interview with Russert.
“I don’t see the need for new or special legislation,” Romney said. “My experience over the past several years as governor has convinced me that ENDA would be an overly broad law that would open a litigation floodgate and unfairly penalize employers at the hands of activist judges.”
Although the campaign has given no indication that Romney has changed his position on workplace nondiscrimination, what impact he could have as president if his position has changed appears limited.
According to Crosby Burns, a research associate at the Center for American Progress specializing in LGBT workplace issues, Romney could expand Executive Order 11246 prohibiting federal contractors from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Signing such an order would extend protections that already apply to race, color, religion, sex and national origin, affecting 26 million workers. There has been no movement from the Obama administration on the issue since April.
“It would be huge,” Burns told Metro Weekly, particularly because Romney’s opposition to ENDA gives no indication he would issue such an executive order. “But it would be pretty hard to imagine Republicans on the Hill would be okay with that.”
ENDA remains one of the last major battles for the LGBT-rights movement. Legislation similar to ENDA has been introduced in Congress since the 1970s and faced continuous opposition from Republicans.
“Gov. Romney has said time and again that he opposes federal legislation,” said Burns. “There’s no indication from the Romney campaign to believe otherwise.”