Deroy Murdock - Romney gives mixed message on gay marriage

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As a gay-marriage proponent, I was pleased to learn that then-Gov. Willard Mitt Romney, R-Mass., issued at least 189 special-issue, one-day marriage licenses to same-sex couples in 2005 alone. These documents let these 378 people enjoy nuptials officiated by relatives, friends and others who normally do not perform weddings.

This boost for gay marriage surprised me, given Romney's numerous contrary pronouncements on the matter.

"I agree with 3,000 years of recorded history," Romney announced as governor. "Marriage is an institution between a man and a woman."

"I oppose same-sex marriage," Romney declared at Iowa's Dec. 15 GOP debate. "That's been my position from the beginning."

Romney's statements, however, conflict with his gubernatorial behavior.

In Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled on Nov. 18, 2003, that the Bay State lacked a "constitutionally adequate reason for denying marriage to same-sex couples." The court granted 180 days "to permit the legislature to take such action as it may deem appropriate in light of this opinion."

Lawmakers debated various measures and even deliberated as a constitutional convention. But they never enacted a same-sex marriage law. The old, traditional marriage statute remains intact.

Nonetheless, Romney enforced the court's opinion, even though it required nothing of him, having allowed the legislature a window to act "as it may deem appropriate."

While Team Romney argues that the court forced it to give gay couples conventional marriage licenses, the special, one-day licenses are a strictly gubernatorial choice, as Massachusetts law unambiguously states:

"The governor may in his discretion designate a justice of the peace in each town ... as he considers expedient, to solemnize marriages. ..." The law continues: "... the governor may designate any other person to solemnize a particular marriage ... ." (Emphasis added.)

"Even if one accepts the Goodridge decision as constitutional, the one-day permits were above and beyond what was required by the court decision; they were purely discretionary," says Steve Baldwin, former executive director of the Council for National Policy and a one-time Republican whip in California's State Assembly. "Romney did not have to issue any permits at all. This calls into question his authenticity as an alleged social-conservative candidate."

Baldwin, with whom I served on the national board of Young Americans for Freedom, has studied this issue and first alerted me to it.

Scott Helman and Scott Greenberger reported in the January 2006 Boston Globe that "the applications Romney approved from same-sex couples included at least four from state legislators, including Jarrett T. Barrios, a state senator from Cambridge, members of the clergy from out of state, family members and friends."

If Romney truly opposed gay marriage as fervently as he claims, he could have exercised his discretion and refused to grant these one-day licenses to same-sex couples. A tougher-but-fairer policy would have denied such licenses to everyone, gay or straight. Instead, under no obligation to do so, Romney chose to give these particular licenses to gay couples.

"In Iowa, I don't care who you are. You do something like that, you're going to have to explain yourself," Leon Mosley, then-co-chairman of Iowa's Republican Party, told Helman and Greenberger. "I don't care if I am governor or not, I don't rubber stamp anything I don't believe in."

Joan Wheeler, former chairman of the Cherokee County, S.C., Republicans, said of Romney: "In my opinion, it looks like he's doing the opposite from what he believes."

Romney's inconsistent words and deeds leave GOP voters two options:

Fans of gay marriage should thank Romney for these 189 or more instances in which he voluntarily used his gubernatorial authority to unite these same-sex couples so they might live happily ever after.

Foes of gay matrimony should ask Romney if he really meant it when he said, "I have never supported same-sex marriage."

If so, why did he use his discretionary power to do just that -- at least 189 times?

(Deroy Murdock is a columnist with Scripps Howard News Service and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University.)

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