THE BLOG
01/16/2015 03:44 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

What Will 2016 Mitt Romney Say About Gay Marriage?

David Ryder via Getty Images

Political pundits have been abuzz over -- and bewildered by -- Mitt Romney's statements pointing to a likelihood that he will actually run for president again. He's touched off lots of discussion about his past positions and the holes he's dug for himself -- like the infamous "47 percent" line.

And one vexing issue with which Romney will have to grapple is what to say about homosexuality and marriage equality in a world where gay marriage will likely be the law of the land in every state. Unlike those of the other possible candidates of the GOP establishment, Jeb Bush and Chris Christie, Romney's positions on gays have been more defined and extreme -- and more consistent and reiterated much more recently, especially since he veered far right in the primaries in 2012. Any change will be seen as a yet another major flip-flop by a candidate who's already got a dozen he's been juggling for years.

While Jeb Bush made ugly statements about gays in 1994 -- claiming that "sodomy" shouldn't be "elevated to the same constitutional status as race and religion" -- it was 20 years ago. When the comments surfaced recently, his spokesperson quickly put out a statement saying the comments "do not reflect" Bush's opinion today. Bush is still repugnantly dog-whistling to conservatives by saying we must "safeguard religious liberty" even as we should "respect" gay and lesbian couples seeking to get protections, but unlike Romney he was able to take back his most extreme rhetoric because it was two decades old.

Christie has opposed gay marriage and said it should be voted on by residents of each state. But in the end he blinked and didn't take a state court ruling in favor of gay marriage to the New Jersey Supreme Court, letting it stand. He also signed legislation making New Jersey one of only three jurisdictions that bans the practice of "conversion therapy" on minors by licensed therapists. Both issues will haunt him with religious conservatives in the primaries if he runs, and he'll no doubt be doing his own dance, as will all the GOP contenders, who will try to run from the gay issue while also trying to appease social conservatives.

But it's worse for Romney, who, in the 2012 campaign, supported a federal marriage amendment, certainly not just leaving the issue to the states. As I wrote during the 2012 campaign, as recently as 2005, as Romney focused on running for the presidency, he gave a speech to conservative voters in South Carolina saying, "Some gays are actually having children born to them. It's not right on paper. It's not right in fact. Every child has a right to a mother and father.''

That was a year after he had battled with the Registry of Vital Records and Statistics as the governor of Massachusetts, directing that state office -- after marriage equality had come to the state -- not to revise birth-certificate forms for babies born to same-sex couples. He directed the office not to change the box labeled "father," for example, to "father or second parent" and said it should simply be changed with a pen, obviously marking these children as different for life and making them open to charges of fraud every time they had to show a birth certificate.

Romney never backed away from any of these past positions during the 2012 campaign. And even after the race was over, in 2013, he continued in the same vein, saying, "I believe that marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman, and that's because I believe the ideal setting for raising a child is where there's a mother and a father in the home."

Obviously Romney's positions carried him through the GOP primaries in 2012, and if he remains in the same place, perhaps he can use those positions as a wedge against Christie and Bush in the 2016 primaries. But with Utah, seat of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, now a marriage-equality state, and with marriage equality sweeping across the land, Romney looks like a relic from the past on this issue, particularly to GOP establishment donors. Yet any change, even a nuance, will add to his reputation of putting his finger in the air on issue after issue. The more Romney runs, the more evident that becomes.