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Gay Republicans Still Look For Romney's Support

President Obama's support for same-sex marriage has been a hot topic this week. After announcing his position during an ABC News interview on Wednesay, it's been difficult for pundits, the media and the public to focus on much else, especially since the news came on the heels of North Carolina's approval of a ban on same-sex marriage.

One person trying to move away from the same-sex marriage debate has been Mitt Romney. For three days, his campaign has tried to steer the national conversation back to the economy, but the pressure to respond to Obama's announcement has been intense.

Speaking at the evangelical Christian Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., on Saturday, Romney finally spoke out. "Marriage is a relationship between one man and one woman," he said to a cheering crowd of students.

Despite attempts to downplay the issue, Romney may be forced to draw a clear contrast with Obama's position.

One group watching Romney's position carefully is the Log Cabin Republicans, a group that advocates for equal rights for all Americans, including gays and lesbians. Rich Tafel, who founded the national office, tells weekends on All Things Considered host Guy Raz that Romney's position on gay issues has shifted over the years.

"Certainly when he was running for Senate in Massachusetts in 1994, he really made a case to Log Cabin Republicans that he would be even better than Sen. Kennedy," Tafel says.

Romney basically made the pitch that he was a businessman who never discriminated against gay people, Tafel says, and that he had no problem with gays and would be a supporter if he were in the Senate.

Romney lost that race but eventually became governor of the state. His pivot on the issue, Tafel says, came in 2004 when courts in Massachusetts ruled that same-sex marriage was constitutional in the state.

"It felt really odd at the time that he would really ride this issue as a governor, when there were so many other issues for the state," Tafel says. "He was saying 'I've got no future in Republican politics unless I pivot on this issue.'"

Tafel spoke about Romney's stance as well as his own reaction to Obama's support for same-sex marriage on weekends on All Things Considered.


Interview Highlights

How Tafel felt about Obama's announcement:

"I was very excited by it; I was very moved by it. I know there's a lot of political calculation right now, but I kind of saw it in the sweep of history, and I saw it as a very historic moment for a president taking the lead on civil rights issues."

On Romney and gay rights:

"I think he's going to have to reach out to the swing states and support gay rights. If it's not going to be gay marriage, he has to show why he supports domestic partners. He has to demonstrate it in a number of ways, including [through] his vice presidential choice. He's going to have to find a way to say 'gay marriage might be too far for me, but this is who I am.' ... The economy will obviously dominate this election, but [swing voters] are also looking for authenticity, and that's been a challenge for Mitt Romney."

On whether this is a windfall:

"I personally believe at the end of the day it's a net win for the president. But I think that it was still brave because there are some states that this is still a very controversial issue. So I give him credit for showing leadership on the issue. [On] the political calculus, I think it will inspire young voters who this is a complete non-issue for. I think it will help with Hollywood money [and] mute some of the Wall Street money that has been leaving him."

On the momentum of the same-sex marriage issue:

"I believe that the momentum on gay marriage is inevitable; this is a historic moment. Some day we'll look at people who opposed gay marriage the way we look at people who fought against liberating slaves. It will be that kind of issue ... no one will brag about the fact that they were opposed to gay marriage. If you're already speaking to young people under 30, it's almost beyond their imagination that this is an issue."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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