WASHINGTON, D.C. When future historians write about the 21st-century debate over gay marriage, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama will be featured prominently.
Romney was governor of Massachusetts when the state's highest court issued its first-in-the-nation decision legalizing gay marriage, and he not only fought to have the ruling overturned but also supported an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would define marriage as between a man and a woman.
Obama voted against that federal marriage amendment as a U.S. senator, and once he was president he became the first sitting U.S. president to oppose the Defense of Marriage Act and also to endorse gay marriage.
The following is a review of Obama and Romney on the issue of gay marriage by their actions and their own words.
Romney's actions on the issue of gay marriage
• November 2003: The same day that Massachusetts' highest court issued its first-in-the-nation decision that would legalize gay marriage, Romney endorses a proposed state constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man, one woman.
• March 2004: Announces his desire to ask the court to prevent its ruling from going into effect until after citizens can vote on a state constitutional marriage amendment. Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly, though, declines to make such a request to the court. (The court had "stayed" its ruling for 180 days, meaning it did not take effect until May 2004.)
• April 2004: Files an emergency bill with the state legislature that would give him the power to ask the state's high court to delay its ruling until after citizens can vote on a constitutional marriage amendment. (The bill fails.)
• April 2004: Announces that because of an obscure 1913 law, out-of-state gay couples won't be able to marry when the court's ruling takes effect in May 2004. Romney's interpretation goes further than the interpretation of the attorney general, who had limited the application of the law to only the 38 states that had explicitly defined marriage in the traditional sense. Romney said couples from any state that doesn't recognize gay marriage are ineligible.
• May 2004: Announces he will veto any bill that allows out-of-state couples to marry in Massachusetts.
• June 2004: Appears before a U.S. Senate committee, urging passage of a federal constitutional marriage amendment defining marriage as between one man, one woman. Such an amendment would overturn the gay marriage ruling in his state.
• November 2006: Speaks before 7,000 people at a rally in Boston supporting a state constitutional marriage amendment.
• December 2006: Threatens to withhold a pay raise from state legislators if they fail to vote on a marriage amendment. Citizens had gathered 170,000 signatures to place the amendment before the body, and the constitution requires a vote. (The legislature subsequently passed the amendment, although it failed to pass it again during the next session, as required. The state constitution requires the amendment to pass twice before being placed on the ballot.)
• Summer 2012: Says if he is elected, his attorney general will defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court.
Romney's words on the issue of gay marriage
• Romney, on the court decision in his home state legalizing gay marriage: "Given the decision of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, Congress and America now face important questions regarding the institution of marriage. Should we abandon marriage as we know it and as it was known by the framers of our Constitution? Has America been wrong about marriage for 200 plus years? Were generations that spanned thousands of years from all the civilizations of the world wrong about marriage? Are the philosophies and teachings of all the world's major religions simply wrong? Or is it more likely that four people among the seven that sat in a court in Massachusetts have erred? I believe that is the case" (June 2004, appearing before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee).
• Romney, on supporters of traditional marriage being labeled discriminatory: "People generally want to accept other individuals who are different than themselves with love and appreciation and respect. At the same time, they recognize the value in having a mother and a father associated with the development and care and nurturing of a child. And they reject the notion that if they believe in this traditional definition of marriage that somehow they become intolerant or discriminatory" (June 2004, appearing before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee).
• Romney, on the purpose of marriage: "Marriage is not solely about adults. Marriage is also for children. In fact, marriage is principally for the nurturing and development of children. The children of America have the right to have a father and a mother. Of course, even today, circumstances can take a parent from the home, but the child still has a mother and a father. If the parents are unmarried or divorced, the child can visit each of them. If a mother or father is deceased, the child can learn about the qualities of their departed parent. His or her psychological development can still be influenced by the contrasting features of both genders. Are we ready to usher in a society indifferent about having fathers and mothers? Will our children be indifferent about having a mother and a father? What should be the ideal for raising a child? Not a village, not 'parent A' and 'parent B,' but a mother and a father" (June 2004, appearing before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee).
• Romney, on the consequences of legalizing gay marriage: "We have to recognize that this decision about what we call marriage has consequence which goes far beyond a loving couple wanting to form a long-term relationship. ... Calling [a gay relationship] a marriage creates a whole host of problems for families, for the law, for the practice of religion, for education. Let me say this, 3,000 years of human history shouldn't be discarded so quickly" (January 2012, GOP debate).
• Romney, on how his administration would handle the issue of gay marriage (statement from his website): "Marriage is more than a personally rewarding social custom. It is also critical for the well-being of a civilization. That is why it is so important to preserve traditional marriage the joining together of one man and one woman. As president, Mitt will not only appoint an Attorney General who will defend the Defense of Marriage Act a bipartisan law passed by Congress and signed by President Clinton but he will also champion a Federal Marriage Amendment to the Constitution defining marriage as between one man and one woman" (fall, 2012).
Obama's actions on the issue of gay marriage
• 2004: Running for U.S. Senate, Obama announces his opposition to the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, a law that defines marriage in federal law as being between a man and a woman. DOMA, as it is called, also gives states the option of not recognizing gay marriages from other states. Gay activists view DOMA as an impediment to legalizing gay marriage nationwide.
• June 2006: As a U.S. senator, votes against a federal constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man, one woman.
• June 2008: States his opposition to California Proposition 8, a proposed state constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man, one woman.
• February 2011: Orders the U.S. Justice Department to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act in federal court.
• August 2011: Justice Department argues in federal court that children don't need a mother and father. "There is no sound basis for concluding that same-sex couples who have committed to marriages recognized by state law are anything other than fully capable of responsible parenting and child-rearing," the brief states. DOMA, the brief says, is driven by prejudice against gays and lesbians.
• Summer/fall 2011: Justice Department moves from neutral stance on DOMA to actually opposing it in federal court and arguing it is unconstitutional.
• March 2012: Announces opposition to proposed North Carolina marriage amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman.
• April 2012: Announces opposition to proposed Minnesota marriage amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman.
• May 2012: States publicly, for first time, that he supports the legalization of gay marriage.
Obama's words on the issue of gay marriage
• On California Proposition 8, which defined marriage as between one man and one woman: "I oppose the divisive and discriminatory efforts to amend the California Constitution, and similar efforts to amend the U.S. Constitution or those of other states. For too long, issues of LGBT rights have been exploited by those seeking to divide us" (June 2008, letter to Alice B. Toklas Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Democratic Club).
• On his administration's championing of gay rights issues (delivered in a speech to gay activists): "We have more work to do. ... We're making real and lasting change. We can be proud of the progress we've already made. And I'm going to continue to fight alongside you. ... I need your help to fight for equality, to pass a repeal of DOMA, to pass an inclusive employment nondiscrimination bill so that being gay is never again a fireable offense in America. And I don't have to tell you, there are those who don't want to just stand in our way but want to turn the clock back, who want to return to the days when gay people couldn't serve their country openly, who reject the progress that we've made, who as we speak, are looking to enshrine discrimination into state laws and constitutions efforts that we've got to work hard to oppose, because that's not what America should be about" (October, 2011, speech to Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay activist group).
• On his support for gay marriage: "I've stood on the side of broader equality for the LGBT community. And I had hesitated on gay marriage in part because I thought civil unions would be sufficient. ... And I was sensitive to the fact that for a lot of people, the word marriage was something that evokes very powerful traditions, religious beliefs and so forth. ... I've just concluded that for me personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married" (May 2012, interview with ABC News).
• On the future of marriage's definition in America: "The winds of change are happening. They're not blowing with the same force in every state" (May 2012, interview with ABC News).
• On whether he would sign a bill legalizing gay marriage if he was a state governor: "I would. And that's part of the evolution that I went through. I asked myself, right after that New York vote took place [to legalize gay marriage], if I had been a state senator, which I was for a time, how would I have voted? And I had to admit to myself, 'You know what? I think that I would have voted yes'" (May 2012, interview with ABC News).