In 1994, gay marriage was far from central, as it is now, to the debate about gay rights. But in 2003, Massachusetts' highest court ruled that same-sex marriage is a right guaranteed by the state constitution. The question is: Has Romney, in his quest to get to McCain's right on issues that concern social conservatives, become contradictory?
He does seem to have either the zeal of a convert -- or an indifference to elementary distinctions -- when he accuses McCain of being "disingenuous" because McCain, who opposes same-sex marriage but believes that marriage law should remain a state responsibility, voted against an amendment to the U.S. Constitution declaring that marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman. The Boston Globe reports that in 1994 Romney, who now supports a federal ban on same-sex marriage, told a Boston-area gay newspaper that the definition of marriage was a state prerogative. This, combined with his statement that he is pro-life because his views have "evolved" since 1994 (when he said, "I believe that abortion should be safe and legal"), leaves Romney vulnerable to the suspicion that his social conservatism is synthetic.
Romney can argue that judicial activism regarding same-sex marriage, as in Massachusetts, has made it impractical to leave the definition of marriage to state legislatures. And he can argue that a reasonable understanding of "full equality" for gays and lesbians need not include an entitlement to a legal status ("married") with a longstanding meaning and social function. But he should make his arguments soon, before voters come to an adverse judgment about how he makes judgments.
Events are accelerating the 2008 Republican nomination contest. When the president speaks on Iraq next month, McCain might be compelled to choose between endorsing a troop withdrawal leading to a "catastrophic" defeat, or an "immoral" policy of futile perseverance. And by then Romney must explain the ballast of belief he carries as he attempts to become the social conservatives' candidate.