Romney seems to be all over the map on gay rights, depending on what audience he’s addressing. In 2002, he stated his support for domestic partnership rights such as health benefits and inheritance rights, and last October in New Hampshire, he said he supports “partnership agreements” incorporating limited legal rights for gay couples.
But in August, he signed a pledge from the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage promising to support a federal amendment to ban same-sex marriage, defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court, nominate Supreme Court justices who oppose gay marriage and even establish a presidential commission on “religious liberty” to investigate alleged threats against opponents of same-sex marriage. He has reiterated those views in nearly every Republican presidential debate since then.
Yet in nearly every primary, he lost the evangelical vote to other, more authentic candidates such as Santorum, who emerged as the clear favorite of the anti-gay movement after most of the other contenders dropped out. Inexplicably, Romney still seems to crave its support and is apparently willing to do almost anything to get it.
The great irony in Romney’s search for that holy grail is that most rank-and-file Republicans are on the opposite side of the gay rights issue than the far right. For at least 20 years, for example, polling by Gallup has shown that more than 80 percent of Americans favor nondiscrimination in employment for gays and lesbians. Gallup’s and Newsweek’s 2008 polls on this question showed support at nearly 90 percent, including a large majority of Republicans. A 2007 survey by GOP pollster Tony Fabrizio showed that an overwhelming 77 percent of Republicans back nondiscrimination policies.
But Republican support for gay rights doesn’t stop there. In a 2008 Washington Post-ABC News poll, 75 percent of Americans, including about 66 percent of conservatives and about 75 percent of independents, supported allowing openly gay service members into our armed forces, while a 2010 Gallup poll showed 70 percent of voters, including 53 percent of conservatives, in favor of repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
Even when it comes to relationship recognition for gay couples, as far back as 2004, a CBS News poll showed that 46 percent of Republicans backed either civil unions or same-sex marriage, and that support has continued to grow. A CBS News poll in August 2010 showed 59 percent of Republicans supporting either same-sex marriage or civil unions (25 percent backed marriage, 34 percent civil unions). A May 2011 survey by Public Policy Polling showed a majority of Republicans, 51 percent, in favor of either same-sex marriage (12 percent) or civil unions (39 percent).
GOP support for marriage equality is also getting stronger. A Pew Research poll from last year showed about 25 percent of Republicans favoring it, while a Public Religion Research Institute poll, also from 2011, found an astounding 37 percent of Republicans favoring same-sex marriage.