Mitt Romney surely gave ammunition to opponents regarding his leadership at Bain Capital when he said during a speech on health insurance yesterday, "I like being able to fire people." But he also unwittingly underscored his position on discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people: He likes being able to engage in it.
You'd have to be living under a rock not to know that Mitt Romney has flipped-flopped on gay rights (like many other issues), and the pink flyer controversy is only the tip of the iceberg. That's why it's infuriating when some in the media allow him and other GOP candidates to say they "oppose discrimination" against gays even though they don't support any laws that would ban such discrimination.
Romney once believed it was so important to end discrimination against gays -- or at least thought he needed to convey that to get elected in Massachusetts -- that he said in 1994 if elected to the US Senate he would vote for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would protect gays under federal law. He even said he supported a law banning housing discrimination against gays.
But by 2006, as he was gearing up to run for president, Romney reversed entirely, writing a letter to the Log Cabin Republicans: " I don't see the need for new or special legislation. My experience over the past several years as governor has convinced me that ENDA would be an overly broad law that would open a litigation floodgate and unfairly penalize employers at the hands of activist judges." Yes, he's more concerned now with discrimination against corporations -- they are, after all, people too -- than he is about discrimination against American citizens.
No one knows if Romney also now thinks that way about the same laws currently in place that protect people on the basis of race, class or national origin -- civil rights laws -- since he hasn't been asked. Nor has he been asked how he made such a radical shift on anti-discrimination laws for gays. There was no follow-up, no raising of his contradictions, at NBC's Meet the Press/Facebook Debate on Sunday morning when he claimed he was against discrimination, allowing him to come off as compassionate when he's as cold-hearted as the the rest of bunch.
Similarly, Rick Santorum stated at that debate that though he believes marriage is between a man and a woman he too is opposed to discrimination against gays. Putting the marriage issue aside (and how it is discriminatory not to let gays marry), Santorum wasn't then asked by the moderators why he voted against a federal hate crimes law that would include LGBT in then-existing hate crimes laws. He wasn't asked why he voted against federal employment protections for gays and lesbians as well.
Santorum speaks about homosexuality as if it is an affliction similar to alcoholism or drug abuse: We should have sympathy for these poor souls, but that doesn't mean their behavior should be protected under the law and thus encouraged.
Romney is saying something a bit different -- he doesn't frame homosexuality as a disease -- but it's equally troubling. He's put a gay person in his cabinet and made judicial appointments without asking about sexual orientation, he said at the debate, so it proves he doesn't personally discriminate and that he thinks gays can and do contribute much to society. But he obviously believes he and other employers should always have the right to discriminate against gays, otherwise it would be too much of a burden on business.
There's also the issue of "don't ask, don't tell," which Romney was in favor of keeping in place right up until about a month ago -- after it was gone. How is this a person who doesn't support discrimination?
Some in the media might give Romney a pass and allow him to claim, unchallenged, that he opposes discrimination because they believe deep down he's a moderate on the issue, and unlike Santorum or Rick Perry, is not on an antigay crusade.That may or may not be true, but Romney is as captive to the base of his party as they are. Like most of them, he signed a pledge by the National Organization for Marriage to appoint antigay judges and investigate the group's critics for "harassment." And like the rest of the candidates, he likes "being able to fire people" for being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.
Follow Michelangelo Signorile on Twitter: www.twitter.com/msignorile