Mitt Romney was far to the right of President Obama on the issue of marriage equality well before Obama offered his support for legalized same-sex marriage. But in another sign that Republicans are nervous about being cast as the anti-gay party, Romney is steering clear of chances to explain just how different he is from the president.
Given the chance to take on Obama directly over marriage, Romney has repeatedly avoided talking about the issue, or addressed it in muted terms.
Despite Republican protestations that the two candidates were on the same page before Obama embraced same-sex marriage, Romney could not be further from the president’s position. During the primaries, Romney signed the National Organization for Marriage’s pledge — a promise to support a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and to create a presidential commission to protect defenders of traditional marriage “who have been harassed” by gay-rights advocates.
Obama, on the other hand, has publicly opposed state ballot initiatives aimed at restricting marriage rights, and has used executive power to expand gay rights protections. He has instructed his administration to stand down on defending the Defense of Marriage Act, while Romney’s signature on the NOM pledge means he has promised to defend it.
But in an election many Republicans think they have a chance of winning only if it becomes a referendum on the economy, Romney is steering as clear of the marriage debate as he reasonably can.
A couple of examples:
• Just two days after Obama made his historic shift to openly supporting the right of same-sex couples to marry, Romney made a campaign stop in Charlotte, N.C., the city that will host the Democratic convention this summer.
This was a chance for Romney to sidle up to the voters who just days earlier had cast their ballots in favor of new restrictions on gay marriage in a state that Obama hopes to win again. Instead, Romney stayed silent on the marriage question entirely.
• In an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network conducted this weekend, Romney declined to say marriage will be a big part of his campaign going forward. That could put him at odds with evangelicals, who are urging the GOP to put marriage front and center.
Romney told CBN he’ll talk about marriage — but only to audiences that want to talk about it and ask him to comment.
“I’m asked about social issues as well as foreign policy issues and economic issues. And, of course I’ll describe my views on those issues to people that have interest,” he said. “You know, I’ll do my very best to connect with the American people on the issues that they care most about.”
Romney gave an example of how this strategy works in his big commencement address to the class of 2012 at Liberty University Saturday. Romney’s biggest applause line before the audience of evangelicals came when he flatly proclaimed, “Marriage is a relationship between one man and one woman.” Romney insisted it wasn’t his idea to talk about the subject, but argued marriage had simply become one of “topics of Democratic debate,” so he weighed in.
• Meanwhile, Romney has been quietly been driving even further to the right since Obama’s gay marriage decision. A day after he expressed support for same-sex adoption — a stance that puts him directly at odds with the evangelical community — Romney dialed it back, saying he was actually “simply acknowledg[ing] the fact that gay adoption is legal in all states but one.”
Bu again even that stance came only after a direct question. Despite the clear divisions, and the view among some Republicans that Obama made himself vulnerable by getting behind gay marriage, Romney finds weighing in on marriage a lose-lose situation: One that could turn away independents, and distracts from his goal of retaining a laser focus on the economy.