WASHINGTON -- As complicated as the politics of gay marriage have been for President Barack Obama to navigate, they have proven problematic for Mitt Romney as well.
Immediately after the president announced his support for marriage equality, his re-election campaign went on the offensive, charging Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee, with being more regressive on LGBT rights than former President George W. Bush.
"If the Republican Party thinks this is a great issue they sure are looking reticent about it," one top Obama strategist told The Huffington Post. "I think Romney, like [with] everything else, is looking backward and is on the wrong side of history on this. A constitutional amendment on same sex marriage is a very bad idea. Most Americans believe it is a very bad idea and I don’t think they want to have that discussion."
For Romney, indeed, LGBT issues have always presented tricky politics. During his 1994 run for Senate, he positioned himself as a stronger supporter of gay rights than his opponent, Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), only to drop that stance eight years later when he ran for governor of Massachusetts. Along the way, there were were delicate attempts to avoid appearing too old-fashioned, including one instance in which Romney was forced to distance himself from members of his own family.
In March 2002, the Boston Globe reported that Romney's wife, Ann, his son Tagg, and Tagg's wife, Jennifer, had all signed a petition supporting a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage and domestic partner benefits in Massachusetts. At the time, Massachusetts provided limited benefits to same-sex couples, and Romney's campaign position had been that no changes to state law were needed. And so, he was forced to call the petition that his own family members had signed extreme.
"Mitt did not know they signed it, and Mitt does not support it," Eric Fehrnstrom, Romney's chief spokesman both then and now, said at the time. "As far as Mitt is concerned, it goes farther than current law, and therefore it's unnecessary."
Fehrnstrom did not immediately return a request for comment Wednesday as to whether he remembered the petition.
Mark Merante, a Boston attorney who worked against the constitutional amendment, told The Huffington Post that the measure never came to a vote. The petition was filed in December of 2001 in hopes of getting the amendment on the ballot in November 2004. The majority of the state legislature had to approve the measure in order for it to get on the ballot, however, and it fell short by four votes. Merante passed along a copy of both the petition filed with the legislature and the form that the petitioners filed with the state Attorney General's office.
"This petition was the full Monty: no marriage, no civil unions, no nothing," he said. "At the time, there was legislation pending to create domestic partnerships in Massachusetts ... it had been filed for many years, by that point, but never been passed. That was one of their motivations for doing this petition."
Since 2002, Romney has opposed both marriage equality and civil unions while supporting some domestic benefits for gay couples. He has also come out in favor of a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. Less has been known about the viewpoints of his family members. On May 10, 2012, Romney appeared on Fox News to discuss Obama's support for marriage equality, where he was asked if his wife Ann, along with his sons and grandchildren, were "all on the same page" on the issue.
"I actually believe, despite the fact that I have a pretty big family, yes we are all on the same page on this," he said. "I know Ann is, of course."