Maira Garcia, right, and Maria Vargas wait in line to get married at the Brooklyn… (Mario Tama / Getty Images )
Who's the bigger flip-flopper on same-sex marriage, Mitt Romney or President Obama? When it comes to hot-button issues like this one, both politicians appear to have tailored their views according to the political winds -- but that doesn't mean they don't have fundamental differences, particularly as each man's position has "evolved."
Obama's evolution took explosive form last week when he announced on ABC's "Good Morning America" that he thinks "same-sex couples should be able to get married." That's a big contrast from his stance in 2004, when he laid out his views in a debate during the Illinois Senate race. Back then he sounded downright Republican on the issue, saying he believed marriage was between a man and a woman, who, "when they get married, are performing something before God," and that marriage was not a civil right. Even then, however, he was strongly in favor of civil unions for gay couples, saying they should be accorded the same legal rights as married couples.
That was pretty much his position until last week, although as president he made at least two moves toward greater equality for gays and lesbians, leading the repeal of the millitary's "don't ask, don't tell" policy and directing his Justice Department not to defend the federal Defense of Marriage Act against legal challenges.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS: Presidential Election 2012
Yet anybody who's expecting Obama to take a more activist approach on behalf of gays if awarded a second term is likely to be disappointed. Appearing on ABC's "The View" on Tuesday morning, he declined to say whether he'd back a repeal of DOMA. And he believes that individual states should decide for themselves whether to allow same-sex marriage, which appears consistent with his earlier position that marriage isn't a civil right -- if it were, states would be constitutionally barred from banning it for same-sex couples.
Romney has been a bit more consistent, though his position on the issue can be so vague or "nuanced" that it's tough to understand. As Times staff writers Matea Gold and Melanie Mason explained last month, Romney's confusing approach to the issue during his term as governor of Massachusetts left some gays feeling betrayed and religious conservatives calling him a flip-flopper. In a nutshell, Romney campaigned for office in 2002 saying he wouldn't back a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage because it would have outlawed domestic partner benefits, which he strongly favored. Then, in 2003, the state's Supreme Judicial Court ruled that same-sex couples had a constitutional right to marry. Romney's response was to back a measure banning gay marriage but legalizing civil unions -- angering conservatives who opposed the latter. Romney switched gears after that effort stalled and backed a citizens constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. He also fought to block gay marriages by invoking an obscure 1913 law that had originally been passed to discourage interracial marriages; that law was repealed by Romney's successor, and now Massachusetts is one of six states that allow same-sex marriage.
In his commencement address at Liberty University on Saturday, Romney reiterated a position that hasn't changed throughout his political career: "Marriage is between a man and a woman." Romney today says he does not support civil unions, although he said on Fox News last week that it's "fine" for gay couples to adopt children. He later clarified this statement by saying he was only nodding to the reality that gay adoption is legal in 49 states but wasn't endorsing the idea (when it comes to gay adoption, Romney has made statements that appear both to favor and oppose it). And in sharp contrast to Obama, Romney not only supports the Defense of Marriage Act, he backs a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.