Paul Ryan on Gay Rights: 'I Don't Know Why We Are Talking About This'

Mitt Romney's running mate is a man who, like Romney himself, once supported gay rights -- and I do mean just one time -- only to run far away when he needed to genuflect before cultural conservatives.
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Mitt Romney's running mate is a man who, like Romney himself, once supported gay rights -- and I do mean just one time -- only to run far away when he needed to genuflect before cultural conservatives.

In an example of Romneyesque flip-floppery and just plain wimpiness, Rep. Paul Ryan actually tried to kill a gay rights bill just minutes before he voted "aye." Or, as Paul Schindler at Gay City News puts it, "he voted against [the Employment Non-Discrimination Act] before he voted for it."

In 2007, Ryan was one of 35 Republicans to vote for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which at that time only proposed to protect against job bias based on sexual orientation, not gender identity or expression. Ryan's advocacy that day was not unambiguous. When Republicans unsuccessfully tried a parliamentary maneuver to shelve the bill prior to its passage -- with what is known as a motion to recommit -- he joined 26 other GOP ENDA supporters in the unsuccessful effort to kill the bill they would vote for just moments later.

So, the Wisconsin Republican's half-hearted support for ENDA puts him somewhat to the right of Earlier Mitt Romney (who unequivocally supported ENDA while running for the Senate in 1994, actually vowing to co-sponsor it and expand it to include housing and credit), but definitely to the left of Current Mitt Romney, who doesn't support ENDA at all, now callously claiming it would harm businesses. It's not clear whether Ryan still supports ENDA or not, and that's a question reporters need to ask him, particularly since he may or may not be on the same page as Current Mitt Romney.

It's likely Ryan has flipped, too, though, since he took a lot of heat from conservatives after that vote on ENDA. (The bill died in the Senate.) It was the end of Ryan's very brief and tepid flirtation with gay rights. He'd already voted twice, in 2004 and 2006, for a federal marriage amendment (which Romney supports), and after the ENDA vote Ryan twice voted against the hate crimes bill to protect LGBT Americans, including when it eventually passed and was signed into law by President Obama. Ryan also twice voted against ending "don't ask, don't tell" in 2010. In 2011, he supported a constitutional amendment in Wisconsin to ban marriage for gays and lesbians in the state's constitution.

Back in 1999, his first year in the House, Ryan voted to ban gays and lesbians in the District of Columbia from adopting children, and opposed establishing a domestic partnership registry in the District as well. All of that has added up to a a big fat zero, consistently, from the Human Rights Campaign on its congressional scorecard, except for the session in which Ryan voted for ENDA, when he scored a 10 out of 100. (Predictably, a fleeting 10 rating is enough to send validation-starved gay Republicans into spasms of delight over the choice of Ryan as Romney's running mate.)

When the topic of gay rights comes up now, Ryan accuses the media of focusing on a meaningless issue and tries to change the subject. "Actually, I came on to talk about the debt crisis we have and the budget, and I think that's the driving issue of this election," he said when asked about gay marriage on Meet the Press this past February. "But look, I supported the Wisconsin amendment to define marriage as between a man and a woman."

Ryan then went on to use the current president to back up his opposition to marriage equality as he tried to move on to another topic. "If I recall from the last presidential campaign, President Obama and Vice President Biden said that they support marriage as being between a man and a woman," Ryan said, "so I don't know why we are spending all this time talking about this."

That of course was before President Obama came out for marriage equality, following Joe Biden's enthusiastic movement forward on the issue. Now there's a stark choice in this election not just on the role of the federal government in the lives of Americans, but also on a civil rights issue of our time.

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