As the GOP primary heats up and Mitt Romney faces more challenges about his true stand on issues important to social conservatives, a group of prominent pro-family leaders in Massachusetts has issued an open letter to “conservative friends” defending the former Massachusetts governor against what they regard as unfair charges against his pro-life bona fides.
In a related development, five former U.S. ambassadors to the Vatican have sine endorsed of Romney in a statement issued Jan. 7.
Social issues are likely to become more central to the campaign as Romney faces a stiff challenge from former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who is viewed as a hero by the pro-life movement, both for his public stands and challenges in his private life.
Romney, who was pro-abortion until he did an about-face in 2005, is viewed with deep skepticism by many in the pro-life community.
The sense that Romney’s pro-life conversion was merely opportune was captured recently — and approvingly — by liberal New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. Kristof wrote that he would “much rather have a cynical chameleon than a far-right ideologue who doesn’t require contortions to appeal to Republican primary voters.”
But pro-lifers want a president who sincerely embraces their cause and can be counted upon to be their champion in the White House. The signers — all of whom worked with him when he was governor of Massachusetts — say Romney is such a man. The letter deals with Romney’s handling as governor of same-sex “marriage,” abortion, embryonic stem-cell research, abstinence education and religious freedom.
“We, who have been fighting here for the values you also hold, are indebted to him and his responsive staff in demonstrating solid social conservative credentials,” the letter says.
Signers include Mary Ann Glendon, Harvard law professor and former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican; Kristian Mineau, head of the Massachusetts Family Institute; Joseph Reilly, former chairman of Massachusetts Citizens for Life; Gerald D. D’Avolio, former executive director of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, and Roberto Miranda, founder of the Fellowship of Hispanic Pastors of New England (COPAHNI).
In the wake of the endorsement by Massachusetts pro-life leaders, five former U.S. ambassadors to the Vatican also backed Romney in a statement issued Jan. 7. The five former ambassadors are Thomas Melady, Raymond Flynn, James Nicholson, Francis Rooney and Glendon, who also signed the letter by pro-family activists.
The ambassadors noted that, while their political affiliations are “diverse,” they are “united in our wholehearted support for the candidacy of Mitt Romney for the presidency” because of his “commitment to and support of the values we feel are critical for a national leader.”
Romney and the Goodridge Ruling
The ambassadors said that they are endorsing Romney because he has an “outstanding record in defense of marriage and the family” and hailed the candidate as “a staunch defender of the principle that every human being should be welcomed in life and protected by law from conception to natural death.”
Unlike the letter by family and pro-life leaders, the ambassadors ventured from the life issues to add that Romney “understands that America owes its freedom and prosperity to the distinctive legal heritage that is the bedrock of our society” and is a defender of the Constitution and the rule of law.
The public endorsement by family and pro-life leaders, by contrast, sticks to social policy.
Much of the letter deals with the hot-button issue of same-sex “marriage,” which came to the fore in Massachusetts in 2003, when the state’s Supreme Judicial Court issued its ruling in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health that the state could not deny “the protections, benefits and obligations conferred by civil marriage to two individuals of the same sex who wish to marry.”
The governor’s Office of Legal Counsel issued provisional advisory instructions to the justices of the peace and town clerks notifying them of the ruling. It noted that they could be fired for refusing to perform a “marriage” for a same-sex couple.
The letter from pro-family leaders, however, argues that it was the court, not Romney, that ordered that same-sex “marriages” had to be performed.
“Some of Romney’s detractors feel he should have ignored the court and that it’s because of him that same-sex ‘marriage’ became legal,” said signer Kristian Mineau. “But to blame Romney is analogous to blaming Richard Nixon for Roe v. Wade because the ruling was issued while he was president.”
Short of defying the court, the letter shows Romney as a governor who immediately and vigorously jumped into the fray, “staunchly” defending traditional marriage.
Romney quickly invoked a little known 1913 law that forbade the state of Massachusetts to conduct marriages for an out-of-state couple if that marriage would not be recognized in their home state, preventing, Romney supporters argue, Massachusetts from becoming in 2003 a same-sex “marriage” mecca.
‘He Is Our Friend’
The letter notes that Romney “lobbied hard, before a very hostile legislature, for a constitutional amendment protecting marriage.” Romney helped spearhead a petition drive for a pro-traditional-marriage constitutional amendment in Massachusetts. The drive garnered the largest number of signatures on such a petition in Massachusetts history, something that would not have been possible without Romney’s active support, said Mineau.
“Some of Romney’s enemies claim that he didn’t stand tall on the issue of same-sex ‘marriage,’” said signer James Morgan, chairman of the Institute for Family Development. “Those of us who have stood out in the cold on the statehouse steps with Mitt Romney know that he did stand tall with us.”
“I am saddened when some people I know and respect won’t listen when I say he is our friend, but I know from personal experience that Mitt Romney is true blue,” Morgan added.
The letter recalls that Romney filed a suit asking the court to make it clear that a reluctant legislature had to vote on the pro-family constitutional amendment. The pro-family side won the first round of voting but ultimately lost.
The pro-life and pro-family leaders acknowledge in the letter that 1994 comments by Romney, when Romney was running as a pro-abortion candidate for the U.S. Senate against Sen. Edward Kennedy, are “obviously worrisome to social conservatives, including ourselves,” but “do not dovetail” with Romney’s actions from 2003 until the present.
On the issue of abortion, the Romney record famously includes zigzags. As late as 2002, then gubernatorial candidate Romney defended what he then called “a woman’s right to choose.” Romney attributed his pro-life conversion on the issue to his study of embryonic stem-cell research. He had convened experts to help him learn about the issue. Romney vetoed a bill that would have provided public funding for embryonic stem-cell research.
Romney is against taxpayer funding of any embryonic stem-cell research, but in a 2007 interview with CBS, he did suggest that it might be ethical to use “embryos that are referred to commonly as ‘surplus embryos’ from in vitro fertilization” in research.
The letter praises Romney for having “fought” for abstinence education in public schools and for having filed “An Act Protecting Religious Freedom” to help Catholic Charities opt out of providing adoption services for homosexuals.
The letter argues that the “blame” for mandatory payments for abortions in the Massachusetts health-care system that Romney pioneered lies with rulings of the state’s Supreme Judicial Court rather than Romney.
“We don’t fault Romney for this,” said Anne Fox, president of Massachusetts Citizens for Life.
Though not a signer, Fox could see why the statement was issued.
“We have had calls from operatives from other campaigns who were trying to get us to say that Romney is not good for our cause,” she said.
As the GOP primary campaign moves forward, especially into the South, Romney will very likely have cause to refer to this letter again and again.
Register correspondent Charlotte Hays writes from Washington.