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Romney's record on gay rights, social issues in cross-hairs

BOSTON --Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney's political record is relatively brief -- four years as Massachusetts governor and a failed campaign for the U.S. Senate.

That's enough, however, for Brian Camenker, a conservative gadfly and longtime thorn in Romney's side, to write a 28-page report that portrays Romney as sympathetic to gay rights and sexual behavior that clashes with his burnished image as a defender of traditional values.

Camenker's report, which has been makobscure incidents during Romney's four-year tenure as governor: a news release by a state advisory commission on gay youth, a proclamation hailing a gay pride parade, and distribution of a safe sex pamphlet, among others.

Romney's record on such touchstone social issues as homosexuality is crucial as he pitches himself to conservative Republican voters as a bulwark against gay marriage in the only state that allows same-sex marriage.

"The biggest problem is that Romney is so clearly and blatantly faking this. He's a fraud," Camenker said.

Romney said on Friday that his record as governor proves the sincerity of his conservative stances. He said he was "as staunch a defender as anyone in the country" of traditional marriage and also supported a pro-life position on stem cell research. He changed his position on abortion two years ago, when he concluded legalized abortion had cheapened human life, Romney said.

"It's the nature of politics to go back into ancient history and say what happened there and look at what he said there," said Romney, speaking from a gun show in Orlando, Fla., on Friday.

Camenker agrees Romney's record is telling, but he offers a different take on that record. As an example, he points to a question on the Boy Scouts and gays that got minimal notice in a 1994 Senate debate between Romney and Democratic incumbent Edward M. Kennedy.

When asked about the Boy Scouts' ban on gays as scoutmasters, Romney -- then a member of the group's executive board -- initially defended the right of the Boy Scouts to set a tough policy. But he added: "I feel that all people should be allowed to participate in the Boy Scouts regardless of their sexual orientation."

Last April, Camenker's group MassResistance pressured Romney to end a state advisory commission on gay youth after showing administration officials a news release on an annual parade featuring a cross-dressing master of ceremonies and embracing transgender teens.

The release included Romney's name but wasn't vetted by the administration.

Romney, who had signed a proclamation hailing the same parade in 2003, moved to kill the commission. The head of the commission said she received a call from Romney's chief of staff saying he had issued an executive order revoking the commission. Fehrnstrom later confirmed Romney considered the move but "thought that was too harsh."

Instead, Romney ordered the commission to focus on its original mission of suicide prevention among gay and lesbian teens. He eventually abolished it after state lawmakers created a similar commission out of his reach.

Camenker's report also takes Romney to task for not firing any state workers after a pamphlet called "The Little Black Book: Queer in the 21st Century" was distributed at a high school conference on gay and lesbian issues.

The pamphlet, produced by the nonprofit AIDS Action Committee and discovered by Camenker's group, goes into graphic detail about safer sex practices. The pamphlet acknowledged the help of the state Department of Public Health, which was under Romney's control.

School officials said the pamphlet was intended for adults and was mistakenly made available at the event.

"We're not saying he wrote it or anything like that, but you would like to think that there would be a little more to get to the bottom of it and find out who had a hand in publishing something as horrible as that," Camenker said.

At the time, Romney distanced himself from the incident, saying that the state did not directly fund the booklet, and denounced the distribution of "graphic pornographic material on the gay lifestyle" in schools.

Another section of the report criticizes Romney for naming as his Transportation Secretary Daniel Grabauskas, who is gay and had previously been registrar of motor vehicles.

"Grabauskas, for example ... instituted a policy of placing a sex-change checkoff box on drivers license renewal forms," the report reads.

Amy Breton, a spokeswoman for the registrar, said the box was added over the objections of gay rights advocates as a law enforcement tool to help police verify gender when making arrests.

On Friday, Romney defended statements he's made in the past in support of gay rights.

"I don't favor discrimination against gay people and have steadfastly fought for equal rights, but not by suggesting that marriage should be extended to people of the same gender," he said.

Romney's defenders say his conservative bona fides are unshakable.

"He's been rock solid on the issue of marriage," said Kris Mineau of the Massachusetts Family Institute, which pushed a proposed constitutional amendment outlawing gay marriage.

But Camenker's report and other reports of pro-gay statements by Romney have struck a nerve with some conservatives.

"He does need to address better the comments he made in the past if he truly wants to court social conservatives," said Tom McClusky, spokesman for the conservative Family Research Council. "Too many people are going to be cynical and wonder if his actions are politically motivated."


Jim Ellis contributed to this report from Orlando, Fla.