Jacob Sullum

But contrary to the Obama campaign's video, Romney does support shared health plans as well as joint adoption. "If two people of the same gender want to live together, want to have a loving relationship and even want to adopt a child," he said on Fox News last week, "in my view that's something that people have the right to do."

Already this is dangerous territory as far as social conservatives are concerned, which explains why Romney's campaign later insisted he was only explaining what Massachusetts and many other states allow. "He thinks a traditional family is far better for children," a spokeswoman told CNN, but "he acknowledges it's a state issue" and "did nothing to change it" as governor of Massachusetts.

As that whipsawing statement suggests, federalism will get Romney only so far, especially since he has chosen to nationalize the issue by calling for a constitutional ban on gay marriage. If the ban does not apply to civil unions, it will not stop states from allowing legal arrangements "identical to marriage" but for the name, which Romney says he opposes. But if the federal government tries to prevent those, states won't really be free to "make decisions with regard to domestic partnership benefits," the approach he says he favors.

Romney is not the only Republican with conflicting impulses on gay marriage. In the CBS News survey, 70 percent of Republicans supported a constitutional ban, while 63 percent said the issue should be left to the states.

Jacob Sullum

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine and a contributing columnist on Townhall.com.
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