Obama vs. Romney 101: 4 ways they differ on gay issues

Obama-LGBT-Pride-Logo-e1307656008140-300x300-250x250Barack Obama made history on May 9 when he became the first sitting US president to declare support for same-sex marriage. Mitt Romney has said he is against it. But gay issues extend beyond same-sex marriage. Here are the positions taken by the two candidates on gay marriage, gay adoption, HIV/AIDS research and prevention, and antidiscrimination legislation. 


President Obama is seen on a White House television in Washington during an interview with ABC News on May 9, 2012, in which he said he supports gay marriage. (Carolyn Kaster/AP/File)

1. Same-sex marriage

On May 9, Mr. Obama became the first US president to back same-sex marriage when he told ABC News, “I think same-sex couples should be able to get married,” and the Democrats have included this position in their national party platform.

In contrast, Mr. Romney signed a National Organization for Marriage pledge a year ago in favor of a federal constitutional amendment to define marriage solely as between one man and one woman. Further, the former Massachusetts governor does not support civil unions.

As for whose campaign will benefit more from this social issue, it is worth noting that Obama’s campaign raised $1.5 million within 90 minutes of the broadcast announcement. And at a fundraiser held shortly afterwards at the Los Angeles home of actor George Clooney, the campaign took in some $15 million.

“Hollywood is overwhelmingly progressive when it comes to gay rights issues,” says Michael Federici, a political analyst at Mercyhurst University in Pennsylvania.

Beyond that, at least 33 – or nearly 1 in 16 – of Obama’s top fundraisers, known as bundlers, are openly gay, according to a CNN analysis. The Washington Post estimates that the ratio is actually 1 in 6, while the gay issues publication The Advocate puts the figure at 1 of every 5. Between January and March, they collectively raised at least $8 million.

On the other hand, hot-button issues such as same-sex marriage galvanize conservatives, says Republican strategist David Johnson, who consulted on Sen. Robert Dole’s 1988 presidential campaign. “These issues tend to get social conservatives to open up their donor lists,” he adds.

Perhaps surprisingly, Romney has some powerful fundraising muscle from supporters of gay rights. One of his largest bundlers is billionaire hedge-fund manager Paul Singer, who helped him raise $5 million at one event in May. Mr. Singer has also given $10 million to gay-rights advocacy and pledged $1 million to launch a political-action committee called American Unity to encourage GOP candidates to support same-sex marriage.

2. Gay adoption

Obama has stated his unequivocal support for the rights of same-sex couples to adopt. In a proclamation issued last November for National Adoption Month, the president said, “Adoptive families come in all forms. With so many waiting for loving homes, it is important to ensure that all qualified caregivers are given the opportunity to serve as adoptive parents, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, or marital status.”

In an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer prior to his 2008 presidential run, Romney said his position on gay adoption was integrally connected to his opposition to same-sex marriage. “Marriage is primarily not about adults, but about kids. A child and their development and nurturing is enhanced by access and by the nurturing of two parents of two different genders,” he said. “So, as we think about the development of children, and the future of our nation and its ability to raise a generation, we need to have homes where there are moms and dads.”

According to his campaign, Romney favors leaving adoption decisions to the individual states. Currently, according to Human Rights Watch, state laws vary widely, and the decision in many places is left up to a judge.

  • At least two states – Mississippi and Utah – expressly ban same-sex couples’ adoption. 
  • State courts in Michigan have ruled that unmarried individuals may not jointly petition to adopt.
  • State courts in Kentucky, Nebraska, and Ohio have ruled that second-parent adoptions are not available under current law.  
  • Sixteen states plus the District of Columbia allow same-sex couples to jointly petition to adopt.

  • 3. HIV/AIDS research and prevention funding

    Obama gets good marks from the AIDS research community, most recently for July’s International AIDS Conference in the US. Moreover, Obama has remained committed to HIV/AIDS funding. Even during economic challenges in the country, he has implemented the first-ever US National AIDS Strategy, and the Obama administration has lifted a longtime ban on HIV-positive travelers, notes Dan Tietz, executive director of AIDS Community Research Initiatives of America.

    This last move allowed this year’s conference to be held in the US for the first time in two decades. Obama has also continued funding for the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), a program to combat AIDS in developing countries, which was launched in 2004 under the Bush administration.

    In mid-July, prior to the conference, Romney issued a statement on the continued need for action in AIDS research and funding. 

    “AIDS is an indiscriminate killer. It takes our young and our old. It leaves behind widows and orphans,” said the former Massachusetts governor. “And in many parts of the world, it affects those least able to help themselves. Significant progress has been made in research, education, and delivery of medication, but more needs to be done. America is a compassionate nation. It has been – and must continue to be – a beacon of hope for innovative research and support as we seek to overcome the global challenge of AIDS.”

  • 4. Antidiscrimination legislation

    Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, expanding federal hate-crime law to include crimes motivated by gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity. According to Democrats.org, Obama also formed the Interagency Council on Bullying Prevention and convened the first White House Conference on Bullying Prevention. In addition, he launched Stopbullying.gov, a website with resources designed to assist bullied youths and their advocates, including specific information on bullying against the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community.

    In 2003, Romney vetoed a bill funding hate-crimes prevention in Massachusetts. Romney’s running mate, Paul Ryan, also voted against the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act when it passed through the House in 2009.

    Obama also supports the inclusion of gays and lesbians in the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA. According to The Advocate, Romney told the Log Cabin Republicans – a GOP coalition of gay and lesbian activists – that he would sponsor ENDA if elected to the Senate in 1994. In 2006, he told the National Journal that ENDA would “open a litigation floodgate and unfairly penalize employers at the hands of activist judges.”

    He added, “I don’t see the need for new or special legislation.”

    It is worth noting that the upcoming US Supreme Court session faces a record number of legal cases involving gay and lesbian issues, from challenges to the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) to California’s Proposition 8, which would ban same-sex marriage.

    This unprecedented number of potential cases before the Supreme Court during an election cycle throws into high relief the role of a president in appointing the nation’s top judges, says David Fleischer, who runs the Vote for Equality program at the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center.

    “The direction the court heads will be very much affected by the next person elected president,” he says. “In that indirect way, the issue of same-sex marriage might increase the fervor in both sides base to get active in the campaign.”


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