Originally published on August 25, 1994
Mitt Romney's campaign for the U.S. Senate hit a snag last month when four members of his Mormon congregation alleged in a Boston Globe article that Romney referred to lesbians and gay men as "perverse" in a November, 1993 speech.
Both in a the Boston Globe and in a subsequent interview with Bay Windows, Romney, who has served as a leader in the Mormon church, denied making the comments. He said he is planning a meeting with the gay community in upcoming weeks to talk about his stand on gay rights and other issues.
In an interview with Bay Windows Aug. 18 , Romney said one reason why he is a better candidate for Senate than opponent Sen. Edward Kennedy is because his voice would carry more weight on lesbian and gay issues than Kennedy's.
BW: You've denied allegations that you called lesbians and gays "perverse." Why do you think a member or members of your church would come forward and make those allegations if they're not true?
MR: I think the reason they came forward was for political reasons. I gave the same remarks 10 times to 10 different congregations and no one came forward to me and expressed any concern. It was only when I became a political candidate that someone came forward. I think there's no question that my political involvement led to the [allegations] being made at all.
I can't speak to whether there was misunderstanding on the part of the listener or on the part of the speaker. I have spoken with individuals with that congregation and reviewed my notes of my remarks, there is no question but that I did not make the comments that are attributed to me.
BW: If not perverse, how do you feel about lesbians and gay men?
MR: I respect all people regardless of their differences. I actually made that very clear in my very first television advertising. I feel that as a society and for me as an individual, it's incumbent on all of us to respect one another, regardless of our differences and beliefs, our differences in sexual orientation, in race and that America has always been a place, and should be a place, to welcome and tolerate people's differences.
I personally feel and one of my core beliefs is that we should accept people of all backgrounds and recognize everyone as a brother and a sister because we are all part of the family of man.
My church becomes an issue for some, and I think that's because of a lack of understanding on many people's part about my church. I'm not here running in this campaign to be a spokesman for my church. I'm proud of my religious heritage and my faith has taught me a great deal and helped me as a developing person. I think that one can understand where I stand, in part by looking at my parent's stands on the issues of their day.
My church was criticized in the '60s and '70s as not being fully accepting of black Americans, and yet my father [George Romney, former governor of Michigan] was widely recognized as a leader in the civil rights movement, particularly in the Republican party. He marched in civil rights demonstrations or parades, opposed the Goldwater platform in 1964 and refused to endorse Goldwater as a presidential candidate when my father was governor. So despite the misunderstanding about my church, my father's personal views were manifest by his actions in the public and private arenas.
I'd say the same thing about my mother [Lenore Romney]. My mom was a U.S. Senate candidate in 1970, before Roe v. Wade. My church feels that abortion is not a good choice. However, my mother advocated for the legalization of abortion. So they, like I, can live by and have personal beliefs which celebrate the diversity of our society, and fight for the right of all people to live by their own beliefs and to make their own choices. Their example and my experience is one of showing respect and tolerance for all others.
BW: When we spoke last month, you talked about the concept of free agency in the Mormon Church, which is letting people live how they choose. But what about going forward and advocating on behalf of people instead of merely accepting them? Would you be willing to advocate for rights of lesbians and gay men?
MR: The answer is yes. When I speak of free agency, I don't just mean that each person can do what they want to do, I mean that our society should allow people the freedom to make their own choices and live by their own beliefs. People of integrity don't force their beliefs on others, they make sure that others can live by different beliefs they may have. That's the great thing about this country: it was founded to allow people to follow beliefs of their own conscience. I will work and have worked to fight discrimination and to assure to each American equal opportunity. You'll see that, for instance, in my relations in the workplace.
I've been an executive of Bain & Co. For a number of years, I was chief executive at Bain & Co. It's an environment that fosters openness and fights discrimination. I believe it is a good place for gay and lesbian individuals to work. I know of nothing in our workplace that doesn't encourage promotion and compensation based on performance, without regard to personal differences, such as sexual orientation. I believe that my record, my life, is a clear indication of my support and insistence on anti-discrimination and on efforts to assure equal rights for all.
BW: Does Bain & Co. have a non-discrimination policy that mentions sexual orientation or offer domestic partner benefits?
MR: I would have to look and see what Bain & Co. does. My guess would be yes, but I'm sure exactly what it has for anti-discrimination policies and in all of my years at Bain & Co. I have never heard any person complain about any discrimination based on sexual orientation. I have a number of friends at Bain & Co. who are openly gay and we've had a number of tragedies with young men who have contracted AIDS. Some of whom have passed on, and the outpouring of concern and affection for them and for others in similar conditions have existed throughout the company and it has been part of my life's experience.
BW: Who do you align yourself with in the Republican party? What other members of the party have similar politics to yours?
MR: Well, probably more like Bill Weld. It's hard for me to align them person by person, but I think Bill Weld comes as close as anyone. I also align in many respects with [state Treasurer] Joe Malone. It depends, of course, on the issue, and I don't know the stands of each person. But I think Bill Weld's fiscal conservatism, his focus on creating jobs and employment and his efforts to fight discrimination and assure civil rights for all is a model that I identify with and aspire to.
BW: How do you feel about conservative Republicans like Pat Robertson or Jesse Helms?
MR: Any party ends up being a large tent and I don't want to toss people out of the party, but I do not favor people using the party as a platform for the views of different special interest groups.
I remember in my earliest political experience my father fighting to keep the John Birch Society from playing too strong a role in the Republican party. He walked out of the Republican National Convention in 1964, when Barry Goldwater said, "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice." Because he saw that as a tacit approval of the effort the John Birch Society was making to influence the Republican party. I think that extremists who would force their views on the party and try to shape the party are making a mistake.
I welcome people of all views in the party, but I don't want them to try to change our party from being a large tent, inclusive party, to being one that is exclusive.
BW: Speaking of Helms, I wanted to ask you how you would have voted on an amendment to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that would ban federal funds from public schools which are "encouraging or supporting homosexuality as a positive lifestyle alternative."
MR: I would have opposed that amendment. I don't think the federal government has any business dictating to local school boards what their curriculum or practices should be. I think that's a dangerous precedent in general. I would have opposed that. It also grossly misunderstands the gay community by insinuating that there's an attempt to proselytize a gay lifestyle on the part of the gay community. I think it's wrong-headed and unfortunate and hurts the party by being identified with the Republican party.
BW: Do you support the federal lesbian and gay civil rights bill that would ban anti-gay discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations and credit?
MR: This is Barney Frank's legislation?
BW: This is not just employment, but also housing, public accommodations and credit.
MR: I am not fully aware of that bill, so I would need to study that more fully. I am aware of the legislation that Barney Frank proposed [the Employment Non-Discrimination Act] and do support that and would vote in favor of that.
I also, philosophically, support efforts to ban discrimination in housing. The particulars of the bill you're speaking about I have not studied, so I shouldn't state a position. Philosophically, I support efforts to remove discrimination from the workplace, from housing, from education and so forth.
BW: Congressman Martin Meehan introduced a bill earlier this year that would form a federal panel to study and find ways to reduce lesbian and gay youth suicides. Do you support that legislation?
MR: I support efforts both to understand and reduce gay and lesbian suicide. I applaud Gov. Weld's leadership in that regard in Massachusetts, as well.
Do you support legislation that would extend benefits to domestic partners of federal employees, like health insurance coverage, visitation rights and recognition to gay and lesbian families?
I think what Bill Weld has done here in that regard is the right step and moves in the right direction. [Weld granted sick leave and bereavement time to management-level state employees].
I think when people have a commitment to one another, either a heterosexual or homosexual relationship, that they should have the benefit of visitation rights and leave privileges and things of that nature. The question for me in regards to the health care benefits would be to determine what the cost is, what the implications are, where one would draw the boundaries, how one would define commitment. And those are areas I haven't studied so I won't take a position on that. I do support generally the proposition that people in homosexual relationships should not be discriminated against in terms of employment benefits.
BW: Would you support legalized marriage for gay men and lesbians?
MR: I line up with Gov. Weld on that, and it's a state issue as you know - the authorization of marriage on a same-sex basis falls under state jurisdiction. My understanding is that he has looked at the issue and concluded that certain benefits and privileges should be offered to gay couples and lesbian couples. But he does not feel at this time that he wishes to extend legalized marriage on a same-sex basis, and I support his position.
BW: Would you want more studies done on the issue?
MR: That will occur at the state level. I'll let the governor in Massachusetts, and the governors of other states, s well, study it, evaluate it, discuss the alternatives with psychologists and social workers and health care specialist and so forth to gather information and consider it in a very reasoned way. I have confidence the governor will take the right action.
BW: On a personal level, how do you feel about the issue?
MR: I think I'll leave my comments with the ones I've made.
BW: Are you in favor of lifting the military ban against gay men and lesbians and do you agree with President Clinton's "don't ask, don't tell, don't pursue" policy?
MR: I think the position which President Clinton reached with the concurrence of [Gen.] Colin Powell was a fair compromise and a good step and I support that. I would be surprised if it stops there. I believe that there will be change over time as the military establishment and the rank-and-file become more comfortable with the realities of sexual orientation in the military. I will support progress being made in that area as time progresses and the military and society becomes more accepting.
BW: It's another state issue, but do you support legislation to repeal the archaic sex laws?
MR: I'm not sure which ones each of those are, but I don't think it makes sense to have laws on the books that are not enforced and that only hang over people as possible threats, and so again it's a state-by-state decision and I wouldn't want to impose on a federal level what each state does on their laws, but I think it's a mistake for us to leave laws that are not enforced.
BW: Do you favor a non-discriminatory clause to protect lesbians and gay men in any federal health care reform?
MR: Part of that gets to the question which health care proposal I favor, and I'm not sure exactly how that issue would fit into those proposals or those plans I favor. The answer is: I'm in favor of avoiding discrimination in a health care provision, but I'm not sure exactly how that clause would work. I would like all Americans to be covered by health care and to have universal coverage. I think we can reach universal coverage, not with employer mandates, but by providing incentives to small businesses and individuals to purchase insurance or to obtain coverage, or by providing access to make that more affordable.
I'm also in favor of changing our health insurance regulations such that insurance cannot be denied for pre-existing conditions. So the proposal that I favor would provide insurance to men or women regardless of their sexual orientation. I'm not in favor of a one-size-fits-all federal insurance plan where politicians decide what is in everybody's health insurance plan. I would far rather let Americans take advantage of many options, and take advantage of the plan that is most attractive to them.
BW: Do you support condom distribution in federal prisons?
MR: I would support the conclusion of medical professionals and social workers in prisons as to what they thought was helpful to prevent the spread of the disease. If that was something they though was appropriate, then I would support it. I don't see any reason why that would be an inappropriate thing.
BW: It's another state issue, but what about condom distribution in schools?
MR: Here again, you'll hear me saying the same thing on a number of issues, there are choices I think should be made at the state and local level that I don't like the federal government getting into. I like important moral decisions being made closest to where people live, at the state and local level. So if the community feels that condom distribution is a helpful thing, then that community should be able to do that. And if another community feels that's something they don't support, then they should have the right to do that, as well.
You will find in me a continuing philosophical commitment to allow people to make their own choices and to allow the people in the country to decide what's best for them, instead of letting politicians decide what should be done for the country.
BW: Should people who are HIV-positive be allowed to immigrate to the U.S.?
MR: I have to admit I have not spoken to immigration officers about the extent or the costs of that policy, so I hesitate to speculate. I think it is a legitimate right of the government to say, 'We don't want to take on massive medical costs which we as a society would have to bear." On the other hand, I think it would be wrong to deny people who are HIV-positive access to the United States if there were no substantial costs to us. I would feel the same way, by the way, if someone came to the door who had cancer and was indigent and said, "I want to come to the United States."
I'd say, "Gee, can you care for yourself?" - because it's a concern that our government would have that someone would come and cost our system a lot of money. If somebody has the ability to care for themselves then I see no reason to have restrictions on HIV or cancer or any other kind of patient.
BW: Do you support increased funds for breast cancer research and education?
MR: I do support increasing funding for the discovery of the cause of and the prevention of deadly diseases, and would like to see us spending more in the area of breast cancer, cervical cancer, AIDS, cancer and heart disease. I am not yet an expert on how much funding each disease has received, but I think we have to look at the degree of risk to our society at large and then spend what is consistent with that risk, such that breast cancer, which afflicts a very large number of women, deserves greater interest and research and spending.
My priority on a spending basis is to make sure we don't spend more than we take in as revenue, and I have major areas where I would like to make cuts in federal spending. I think we will continue to need to increase our funding for medical research and prevention of deadly disease.
BW: Why should the gay community support your campaign when Ted Kennedy has been a strong supporter of civil rights issues and the gay community?
MR: Well, I think you're partially right in characterizing Ted Kennedy as supportive of the gay community, and I respect the work and the efforts he's made on behalf of the gay community and for civil rights more generally, and I would continue that fight.
There's something to be said for having a Republican who supports civil rights in this broader context, including sexual orientation. When Ted Kennedy speaks on gay rights, he's seen as an extremist. When Mitt Romney speaks on gay rights, he's seen as a centrist and a moderate. It's a little like if Eugene McCarthy was arguing in favor of recognizing China, people would have called him a nut. But when Richard Nixon does it, it becomes reasonable. When Ted says it, it's extreme; when I say it, it's mainstream.
I think the gay community needs more support from the Republican party and I would be a voice in the Republican party to foster anti-discrimination efforts.
The other thing I should say is that the gay community and the members of it that are friends of mine that I've talked to don't vote solely on the basis of gay rights issues. They're also very concerned about a $4 trillion national debt, a failing school system, a welfare system that's out of whack and a criminal justice system that isn't working. I believe while I would further the efforts Ted Kennedy has led, I would also lead the country in new and far more positive ways in taxing and spending, welfare reform, criminal justice and education. That's why I believe many gay and lesbian individuals will support my candidacy and do support my candidacy.
I have several friends in the gay community who are supporters, who are working in my campaign. I think they believe I would be a better senator.