As President Obama and Mitt Romney articulate competing visions for the future in their presidential campaigns, most LGBT rights advocates agree the choice couldn’t be more stark given the advances the community has seen over the past three-and-a-half years and the anti-gay positions espoused by the Republican candidate.
On one hand, President Obama has endorsed marriage equality, capping off a first term of efforts at the legislative and regulatory levels aimed at benefitting the LGBT community. On the other, Romney signed a pledge with the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage to back a Federal Marriage Amendment and defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court.
Last month, he backed off his earlier stated belief that adoption by same-sex couples is a right by saying he simply “acknowledges” the legality of such adoptions in many states.
Obama has made “forward” the theme for his 2012 campaign. The extent to which Romney has adopted anti-gay views and aligned himself with anti-gay groups raises a key question for LGBT voters: Under a Romney administration, how far “backward” could the LGBT community go?
Many of the pro-LGBT advances that have happened under the Obama administration occurred through changes made by the executive branch rather than through legislation. Changes that were made without the consent of Congress could be reversed under an administration that wanted to cozy up to the religious right.
The Washington Blade has identified five regulatory changes and 16 sub-regulatory changes enacted by the Obama administration that could be reversed if Romney were elected to the White House. These changes include giving greater recognition to same-sex couples, protecting federal LGBT workers against discrimination and ensuring the federal government recognizes the correct gender of transgender people.
Major changes that were made under the Obama administration at the regulatory level include a memorandum requiring all hospitals receiving Medicaid and Medicare funds to allow visitation rights for same-sex couples; lifting the HIV travel ban; and a Department of Housing & Urban Development rule prohibiting discrimination in federal public housing programs and federally insured mortgage loans.
Jerame Davis, executive director of the National Stonewall Democrats, predicted Romney would aim to roll back these policies if he takes the oath of office in January 2013.
“If Mitt Romney were to accede to the presidency, he would have no choice but to deliver on the regressive, ultra-conservative agenda he’s been promising the radical GOP machine,” Davis said. “It is without question that rolling back advances in LGBT equality would be at the top of the list.”
Romney has never pledged during the campaign to rescind any pro-LGBT regulatory changes made under the Obama administration. Although he said he doesn’t support same-sex marriage or civil unions with the same benefits as marriage, Romney said he favors some kind of domestic partner benefits for same-sex couples as well as hospital visitation rights. Rescinding this hospital visitation memorandum would appear to break a campaign promise.
Moreover, the Administrative Procedures Act — a law enacted by Congress in 1946 governing the way in which administrative agencies may propose and establish rules — prohibits a quick change in regulation if a hostile administration takes over. Instituting new final regulations repealing these policies would be a multi-year process and require a justification for overturning them other than for political reasons.
Christian Berle, deputy executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, said he doubts that Romney would take away this progress based on the candidate’s tenure as Massachusetts governor and as a business executive.
“As governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney sustained executive orders providing for domestic partnership benefits including hospital visitation rights for gay and lesbian state employees,” Berle said. “This action directly builds upon his record in leading companies like Bain Capital and Staples, which had strong nondiscrimination policies and partner benefits. This history both as a chief executive in the business sector and as governor of Massachusetts give precedence for sustaining President Obama’s positions on matters including hospital visitation.”
But Romney did rescind some pro-LGBT changes as governor. According to MassEquality, Romney abolished the Governor’s Commission on GLBT Youth and rescinded an executive order prohibiting sexual orientation discrimination in the state workforce. Another Republican, former Gov. William Weld, had instituted those measures.