There is an awful lot to criticize Mitt Romney for — I give some examples and explain why they would hurt Republicans if he were nominated here — especially on social issues like abortion. But I do think Rick Santorum’s critique of Romney on same-sex marriage, which is really an amplification an earlier critique, is somewhat overblown.
Even during his most socially liberal campaign, the 1994 run against Ted Kennedy, Romney never openly supported same-sex marriage (at the time, this would not have even been a mainstream position among Democrats). He opposed both same-sex marriage and civil unions while running for governor in 2002, by that time a fairly conservative position by Massachusetts standards. After the Goodridge decision, Romney unsuccessfully requested a stay. He twice cobbled together the votes necessary to advance measures that could have reached the statewide ballot under the commonwealth’s byzantine amendment process and possibly overturned the pro-same-sex marriage ruling. He also endorsed a federal marriage amendment.
It’s true that Romney did not do everything opponents of same-sex marriage wanted him to do. He did not refuse to comply with Goodridge. He did not press for the impeachment of pro-Goodridge judges. He did not try to issue an anti-Goodridge executive order. He did not repudiate his position on gay rights in general. He did not continue to support an anti-Goodridge amendment that would have also allowed voters to block civil unions once it became clear that amendment lacked the necessary votes.
Yet it is not clear that any of these moves would have been successful (there is dispute over whether some of them would even have been legal). It must be remembered that Romney was almost alone in his opposition to Goodridge among statewide leaders, especially once Tom Finneran ceased to be speaker of the house. By almost any fair reading of the polls, a governor who went on a crusade against Goodridge would have much more unpopular than the decision itself proved to be. The best chance marital traditionalists had was for the issue to make the ballot. Romney worked toward that end, but a lopsidely Democratic legislature thwarted him.
Romney probably could have done more to call the legislature into account for dubiously recessing the constitutional convention that was the last, best shot to overturn Goodridge. I think he can also be fairly criticized for abandoning the state in 2006 to run for president, knowing that this would make Goodridge‘s reversal even less likley. But Romney probably could have spent his entire governorship on the issue and had no more to show for it than he does now.