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Mitt Romney spars with Vietnam vet over gay marriage

December 12, 2011|By Maeve Reston
  • Vietnam veteran Bob Garon challenged Mitt Romney on his views on same-sex marriage at a diner in Manchester, N.H., Monday.
Vietnam veteran Bob Garon challenged Mitt Romney on his views on same-sex… (Brian Snyder / Reuters )

Reporting from Manchester, N.H. — New Hampshire voters pride themselves on vetting and testing their candidates, and Vietnam veteran Bob Garon waited for more than two hours at a Manchester diner Monday to get Mitt Romney’s views on the proposed repeal of New Hampshire’s law permitting gay marriage.

“I judge most people by their eyes, as I think most Americans do,” Garon said a few minutes before Romney sidled over to his booth inside Chez Vachon, a popular breakfast spot known for its crepes and pork pies. What he saw at the diner, before they even spoke, did not impress. Garon was put off by Romney’s manner -- namely that he had done a series of television interviews before greeting patrons.

Eventually Garon, who is 63 and married to a man, got his chance for a one-on-one exchange. Noticing Garon’s black Vietnam veteran cap, Romney sat down beside him and tried to strike up a conversation about his military service as reporters and cameramen crowded around the booth.

“I’ve have a question for you,” Garon said, cutting off the former Massachusetts governor’s attempt at chitchat. “New Hampshire has some legislation kicking around about the repeal of same-sex marriage [law].… All I need is a yes or a no.”

Romney crisply told Garon that because of his view that “marriage is between a man and woman,” he supported efforts to repeal the law.

“Mmmm-hmm, OK, that means that if you’re in the White House, you will not support any form of legislation that would change that so that servicemen will be entitled to benefits like a man and a woman?” Garon asked. “If two men get married, apparently a veteran’s spouse would not be entitled to any burial benefits or medical benefits or anything that the serviceman, [who] has devoted his time and effort to his country, [gets]. You just don’t support equality in terms of same-sex marriage?”

“I believe marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman,” Romney repeated firmly as the two sat a few inches apart in the booth. “The Defense of Marriage Act that exists in Washington today defines benefits, whether for veterans or nonveterans, as between married spouses and for me, that’s a man and a woman. And we apparently disagree on that.”

“It’s good to know,” Garon told Romney, “that you do not believe everyone is entitled to their constitutional rights.”

“Well, no,” Romney replied as the two began to talk over each other. “I think at the time the Constitution was written it was pretty clear that marriage is between a man and a woman and I don’t believe the Supreme Court has changed that.”

“Governor,” an aide interrupted, “we’ve got to get on with Fox News right now.”

“I guess the question was too hot,” Garon said to the candidate.

“No,” Romney replied, “I gave you the answer. You said you had a yes or no [question]; I gave you the answer.” 

As the two parted, the veteran wished the former governor luck and Romney offered his thanks. But Garon, an independent who leans toward Democrats, told reporters that Romney would never be his commander in chief and that he was offended by his answer: “He doesn’t even open the door to a conversation; it’s just a boom,” Garon said, clapping his hands together for emphasis.

“I went and I fought for my country. I did my thing,” said Garon, who served in the Army in the mid-1960s. “I think my spouse should be entitled to the same entitlements that [I’d have] if I was married to a woman. What the hell is the difference?” 

“At least [President] Obama will entertain the idea,” he said. “This man is ‘No way Jose.’ Well, take your ‘No way Jose’ back to Massachusetts.”

After his exchange with Romney, Garon said the only Republican candidate that he’d consider supporting is Ron Paul, but that his “age is a little on the rickety side” making it difficult for him to get elected.

As for Romney: “The guy ain’t gonna make it,” Garon said. “You can’t trust him. I just saw it in his eyes.”

maeve.reston@latimes.com

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