Mitt Romney Needs A Vocabulary Lesson

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Presidential candidate Mitt Romney made gay headlines last week in two separate, but equally unflattering instances. One involves a 2002 gay pride endorsement and the other declares Romney’s anti-gay marriage politics. Taken together, these news bytes make Romney look like a liar in desperate need of a vocabulary lesson.

The initial headlines started on September 17, when a Democrat-run website Romney Facts, posted a gay pride flyer bearing Republican Romney’s endorsement. Reportedly from 2002, the pink paper reads like a note from fun-loving uncles, “Mitt and Kerry wish you a great pride weekend!” Kerry refers to Romney’s then-gubernatorial running mate, Kerry Healey. The politicians were on such good terms with the gays that they apparently earned first name status, like Liza.

During that 2002 campaign, Romney made a concerted effort to court the gay vote. And, as part of his mobilization mission, Romney emphasized that he would not oppose a pending court decision allowing gay marriage. The NY Times article reports that Romney told gay group The Log Cabin Republicans that he would remain neutral on the matter. That article reads, “[Romney] said he believed that marriage should be limited to the union of a man and a woman. But, according to several people present, he promised to obey the courts’ ultimate ruling and not champion a fight on either side of the issue.” Unfortunately, Romney lied.

Three years later, after the Massachusetts Supreme Court passed gay marriage and Romney had won the election, Romney supported a conservative group’s petition to ban gay nuptials. This exclusionary stance became a cornerstone in his presidential campaign.

Much of Romney’s anti-gay politics stem from archaic images of the nuclear family. In June of this year, a lesbian mother asked Romney why he won’t stand up for her marriage rights to which Romney replied: “Marriage is an institution which is designed to bring a man and woman together to raise a child… There are other ways to raise kids that’s fine: single moms, grandparents raising kids, gay couples raising kids. That’s the American way, to have people have their freedom of choice.“ Obviously Romney’s not taking about the choice to marry.

On September 19, two days after the gay pride flyer made its way around the world wide web, Romney released a radio ad endorsing a federal ban on gay marriage. Says a robotic Romney, “As Republicans, we must oppose discrimination and defend traditional marriage: one man, one woman.” Perhaps Romney needs a little reeducation on discrimination.

There are two popular meanings of discrimination, both of which come from the Latin, discriminare – to divide. The first and more flattering definition involves examining and drawing distinctions between an object or subject. Oxford’s online dictionary offers this, “Recognition of the difference between one thing and another.” That difference could refer to anything from apples and oranges. Or, more appropriately, Democrats and Republicans.

Discrimination’s second meaning, the one with which Romney’s having the most trouble, boils people down to divided groups. Another online source, the conveniently named Dictionary.com, offers this particularly fitting definition, “Making a distinction in favor of or against a person or thing based on the group, class, or category to which that person or thing belongs…” Politically speaking, citizens become social categories, rather than singular subjects.

If Romney had his way, the constitution would favor heterosexuals as a category of people. His rule of law would preserve “traditional marriage”. In the radio ad, Romney asserts, “Defending marriage is the right thing to do”. Apparently in Mitt’s tortuous mind, marriage needs protection.

Protection. Now that’s a word. From protegere, to protect, means, literally, to cover in the front. To shield. The imagined need to protect marriage comes up often in the right wing’s short-sighted rhetoric.

In a December, 2006 interview with conservative website Human Events, Romney invokes the right wing’s rationale behind anti-gay marriage policies. He says, “I’m very much opposed to discrimination. I also recognize that it’s not wise to create a special class and establish new rights for any particular group. But I’m opposed to discrimination. At the same time, I’m opposed to same-sex marriage.” In the months between that interview and last week, one would think Romney would realize the contradiction of his policies, but that may be expecting too much.

Romney doesn’t seem to understand that passing a law banning gay marriage makes heterosexuals a special, protected class. Protection tacitly implies a favoritism. Thus, Romney’s politics favors straight people at the expense of gay rights, but still insists he’s anti-discrimination. It seems to me that before Mitt Romney continues down the campaign trail he needs to take a more discriminating look at his gay game plan.

[Note: Our editor, Andrew Belonsky, who wrote this piece, will be appearing on Scott Walterman’s XM radio show on Thursday: 7:30am. Better listen in!]