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Giuliani continues his conservative shift

Favors fewer rights for same-sex unions

Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani continues to discard the moderate and liberal positions of his past. The latest is civil unions for same-sex couples, which the Republican presidential candidate has been backing away from in recent months.

A campaign aide told the Globe this weekend that Giuliani favors a much more modest set of rights for gay partners than civil union laws in effect in four states offer.

Giuliani has described himself as a backer of civil unions and is frequently described that way in news reports. But he began distancing himself from civil unions in late April, when his campaign told The New York Sun that New Hampshire's new law goes too far because it is "the equivalent of marriage," which he has always opposed for gays.

Giuliani's aides offered little explanation of what specific rights he would support for same-sex couples.

In an interview and follow-up e-mails, Maria Comella, the campaign's deputy communications director, told the Globe that Giuliani supports domestic partnership laws similar to the one he initiated in New York in 1998.

The New York law primarily ensures benefits to partners of municipal employees. The law created a registry of partnerships that also helps city residents obtain partner benefits from private companies that extend them. However, most of the registrants are unmarried heterosexual couples.

Comella said Giuliani has always supported the New York model of domestic partnership laws but she did not explain what is widely viewed as an inconsistency in his position.

"It's really disappointing he's stepped back from his position on civil unions," said Joe Tarver, spokesman for the Empire State Pride Agenda, a group that advocates for gay rights in New York state that worked with and against Giuliani on a number of issues during his eight years as mayor.

Calling the former mayor's shifting stance "pretty un-Giuliani-like," Tarver said: "It's quite obvious he's playing to the people whose votes he needs to get the Republican nomination."

Tarver has company. Representatives of New York groups who advocate for abortion rights, gun control, and rights for immigrants, also said Giuliani's actions on the presidential trail, presenting himself to a more conservative GOP electorate, bears little resemblance to the man they knew as the stand-up mayor of Gotham in the 1990s who was open to moderate and liberal arguments.

More than any candidate in the Republican presidential field, rival Mitt Romney has been tagged with the flip-flopper label. But Giuliani, with late shifts on civil unions and federal campaign finance laws, is a political makeover in progress.

On Aug. 6, he called his past support of the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign finance law a mistake, deciding after two election cycles that it does not work.

Giuliani's transformation is, in many aspects, subtler than that of Romney, who has reversed his support for abortion rights.

Giuliani often cites a states' rights rationale as the basis of his new views, though his objection to states adopting civil unions is a notable exception. What was right for his city when he was mayor might not be for other states, he says frequently to explain changing stances.

Of Giuliani's past assertions endorsing civil unions, Comella said the definition has changed over time beyond what Giuliani supports.

Giuliani has used the terms civil unions and domestic partnerships interchangeably, as in comments in 2004 to Fox News's Bill O'Reilly. "I'm in favor of . . . civil unions," Giuliani said. "So now you have a civil partnership, domestic partnership, civil union, whatever you want to call it, and that takes care of the imbalance, the discrimination, which we shouldn't have."

But that was nearly four years after Vermont became the first state to enact civil unions, which provided marriage-like benefits to same-sex partners.

"It's about rights and benefits more than the title," Comella wrote in an e-mail to the Globe. "The mayor supports the benefits and rights as they are written in the domestic partnership law in New York City."

Like New Hampshire, civil union laws in Vermont, Connecticut, and New Jersey "confer upon same-sex couples all of the state (though none of the federal) rights, protections, and obligations afforded married spouses," according to the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, a national advocacy group.

Benefits of domestic partnerships can also be broader than those under the New York law.

Giuliani is attempting to become the first GOP presidential nominee since Gerald Ford in 1976 to support abortion rights. But he has wavered significantly from his once steadfast support for Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion.

Moreover, he has done an about-face on the issue of late-term abortions and has made numerous statements over the years about public funding of abortions that have been viewed as inconsistent.

Most recently he decided to support the Hyde Amendment of 1976 (which he opposed while mayor), which banned federal funding for abortions under the Medicaid program except in cases of rape, incest, and danger to the life of the mother.

"We were pretty dumbfounded as an organization when we heard him say things like he'd be fine either way if Roe v. Wade was overturned or kept," said Mary Alice Carr, spokeswoman for the New York state affiliate of NARAL Pro-Choice America, referring to Giuliani's remarks during a televised GOP presidential debate in May.

When he ran for a second term as mayor in 1997, Giuliani scored a 100-percent rating on the abortion rights group's questionnaire and as mayor held events to mark the anniversary of the landmark court case, which he termed historic, she said.

"His record was so clear," Carr said.

Until recently, Giuliani, who has always said he personally opposes abortion, had many times expressed opposition to a federal ban to the late-term procedure that is called partial-birth abortion by its opponents, who consider it infanticide.

In 1996 and 1997, President Clinton vetoed bills that would have made it a federal crime for doctors to perform the procedure. Giuliani voiced his support for Clinton's actions and as recently as 2000, when he was briefly a candidate for the US Senate, said he would "vote to preserve the option for women."

This year, however, he endorsed the federal partial-birth abortion ban signed by President Bush in 2003 and in April praised a US Supreme Court ruling upholding the ban.

"As long as there's provision for the life of the mother, then that's something that should be done," Giuliani said in February while advocating the ban in an interview.

However, the 1997 bill vetoed by Clinton and the one signed by Bush six years later contained almost identical language concerning what Giuliani cites as the critical requirement for his support of a ban -- an exception if the procedure was required to save the life of a mother.

"One of the things we always said about Rudy Giuliani, and it's his political capital, really, is what you see is what you get," Carr said. "He was always in your face. To now see a guy who says it doesn't matter either way on Roe v. Wade, we don't understand who this guy is."

Chung-Wha Hong, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, has a similar view on Giuliani's hardening stance on immigration. "When he was mayor, he spoke up for what was fair," she said.

As mayor, Giuliani fought in the courts to preserve the city's right to withhold from federal officials the immigration status of city residents who received benefits from the city.

He was a great defender of immigrants, legal and illegal, and, in 1994, at a press conference declared: "If you come here and you work hard and you happen to be in an undocumented status, you're one of the people who we want in this city. You're somebody that we want to protect, and we want you to get out from under what is often a life of being like a fugitive, which is really unfair."

Giuliani, who became known as "America's mayor" for his efforts after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, now frames the immigration issue in terms of protecting the country from terrorists. He vigorously opposed the comprehensive immigration measure that died in Congress this year. He says he opposes amnesty for undocumented immigrants and favors strong border security and a tamper-proof ID card.

"It's very disappointing that he's not showing more depth of understanding," Hong said. "Despite his strong record on understanding immigrant issues as a local official . . . it sounds like he's resorting to simplistic, anti-immigrant rhetoric rather than coming up with a workable plan."

As a chief executive who presided over a sharp decline in crime in New York, Giuliani was a staunch supporter of strict gun control laws, including at the federal level, and was a high-profile supporter of the federal ban on assault weapons that expired in 2004. But as a presidential candidate he describes himself as "a strict constructionist" on the Second Amendment right to bear arms, advocating that reasonable restrictions be legislated by the individual states.

"As mayor, he talked about the need for strong federal laws because cities were at the mercy of the states with weak laws," said Jackie Kuhls, executive director of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, a statewide group. "He clearly knows that as a fact but he's backing away."

"Disappointing is too weak a word," said Kuhls. "I think he is pandering."

(Correction: Because of a reporting error, a Page One story yesterday about Republican presidential candidate Rudolph Giuliani's positions on social issues gave the incorrect name for a statewide group in New York that advocates for gay rights. It is the Empire State Pride Agenda.)