Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Same-Sex Marriage Back In National Spotlight



For three days now, Mitt Romney's campaign has tried to steer the national conversation back to the economy. But the pressure to respond to President Obama's announcement in support of gay marriage has been intense. And this morning at a speech to students at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, Romney definitively spoke out.

MITT ROMNEY: Marriage is a relationship between one man and one woman.


RAZ: We'll have more on that speech in a few moments. But first to our cover story: gay marriage, politics and an American social revolution. The day after North Carolina became the 30th state to pass a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage this week, Tyler Curtain, a professor at the University of North Carolina, wrote an open letter about his predicament.

TYLER CURTAIN: Last night, I talked with my husband of 12 years about what we should do. I love UNC, I love its students, but it is clear that a majority of its voters will carve in large, bloody letters hatred into its constitution.

RAZ: We spoke with Tyler Curtain this week about North Carolina, about his future there and about his partner, Jay.

CURTAIN: Oh, I can't even tell you how much I love Jay. Words don't describe.

RAZ: His partner is a physician. Tyler Curtain teaches English at UNC.

CURTAIN: We met by chance, and we had a first date in a coffee shop. You know, towards the end of that day, he looked at me and he said, I think we're going to have a second date. And I said, oh? And he said, yeah. And I said, OK. And then it became a third date. Then a year later, I was talking with a friend of mine and I said, I think I have a boyfriend.


CURTAIN: I think I have a partner, and it just blossomed. It was unexpected, and it was delightful.

RAZ: The two men had always planned to stay in North Carolina forever. But now, Tyler Curtain and his husband, Jay, are having second thoughts.

CURTAIN: I was talking with him and I thought, oh, they want to make us strangers. You know, we care for each other, but they want to make sure that if you were ill, I couldn't see you in the hospital. Or that if I were to die, that the house that we live in together, that should some relative of mine contested that you would not be able to inherit.

RAZ: Tyler Curtain has now begun the process of looking for a tenured position elsewhere, maybe Massachusetts, maybe New York.

CURTAIN: The people of North Carolina, I don't think they know exactly what they've done.

RAZ: That sentiment was shared by the state's governor, Bev Perdue, a Democrat who opposed the move to change the state's constitution.

GOVERNOR BEV PERDUE: Folks are saying, what in the world is going on in North Carolina? We look like Mississippi.

RAZ: A Gallup poll released this past week shows slightly more than half of Americans agree with President Obama on the gay marriage issue, but a sizable number of Americans don't, including Tami Fitzgerald who runs the North Carolina Values Coalition and helped spearhead that state's move to have marriage defined as a union between a man and a woman.

TAMI FITZGERALD: I do think the vote in North Carolina is representative of the country. I mean, we won this by 61 percent of the vote, and it was a 22-point margin. That's a pretty resounding win. And I think it reflects, to a large extent, the mood of the country. I think there's a lot of wishful thinking out there that the mood of the country is changing. But I personally don't believe that it is.

RAZ: I asked Tami Fitzgerald to explain how gay marriage would threaten the institution of marriage.

FITZGERALD: The threat to couples that have traditional marriages, so to speak, is not so much a threat to their marriage, it's a threat to their freedoms. And what we've seen in other states has happened where gay marriage has become a legalized institution of the state is that this higher right, this so-called special right of same-sex couples to get married, then somehow trumps the rights of other citizens in the state to carry on their lives and their business as they see fit.

For instance, in the state of Vermont, there are bed-and-breakfast owners who have been sued because they didn't want to offer their bed-and-breakfast, which usually is their home, as a venue for a same-sex wedding. In New Mexico, a photographer was fined by the state for refusing to provide her services as a photographer for a same-sex wedding in the state of Massachusetts. That's the danger.

RAZ: Tami Fitzgerald with the North Carolina Values Coalition. Patrick Wooden Sr. is a pastor at the predominantly African-American Upper Room Church of God in Christ in Raleigh, North Carolina. He also opposes gay marriage, and he also helps to organize the grassroots campaign in that state.

REVEREND PATRICK WOODEN: I was extremely disappointed in what the president did in making this announcement that he supports same-sex marriage and to portray it as though it was some type of metamorphosis or evolution that he went through, you know? It sounds like another politician who said I voted against it before I voted for it, and I'm against it.

RAZ: Now that the president has come out in support of this, as you know, the vast majority of African-Americans backed him in 2008, probably most of your congregants supported him.

WOODEN: Yes, a great number of them.


RAZ: Do you believe that this will have any impact at all on his support from African-Americans?

WOODEN: I hope that it does. I hope that the African-American community vote their religion and their religious doctrines above their pride. It was a proud moment to see a man of African-American descent occupy the White House, and many African-Americans were moved by that. But the same man now has taken a position that is totally antithetical to Christian teaching. So I'm hoping that the African-American community will pay more attention to their Christian doctrine than what any politician may or may not say whether they're a Democrat, Republican or independent.

RAZ: Patrick Wooden, he is the senior pastor at the Upper Room Church of God in Christ in Raleigh. Well, what about the national politics of all of this?

All this week, Mitt Romney did everything he could to avoid talking about gay marriage. He did address it in a speech at Liberty University today. But the president's position may now force Romney to draw a clear contrast when it comes to all gay issues.

Rich Tafel is the founder of the Log Cabin Republicans. That's a gay Republican group, and he says Romney's position on gay issues has shifted over the years.

RICH TAFEL: Certainly when he's running for Senate in Massachusetts in 1994, he really made a case to Log Cabin Republicans at that time that he would be even better than Senator Kennedy because he'd be a moderate Republican that supported gay rights. He basically made a pitch: Look, I'm a business guy. I've never discriminated against gay people. I have no problem with it. And I'd be a supporter if I was in the Senate.

RAZ: And that was a genuine view. I mean, he wasn't just saying that from - I mean, he believed that.

TAFEL: I think - well, that's the question, I think. I believe that he believed that at the time. And I - having met with him at the time, he seemed like he had no problem with it at all.

RAZ: When he eventually - of course, he lost that race against Ted Kennedy. When he eventually did become governor in - of Massachusetts, how do you assess his position on gay issues?

TAFEL: Nothing dramatic changed from former Republican governors who were very supportive on gay rights.

RAZ: Like Bill Weld.

TAFEL: Bill Weld, Jane Swift, Paul Cellucci. So there was a history there, and he pretty much maintained that history. When the issue of marriage came up - and it was historic in Massachusetts...

RAZ: It was in 2004.

TAFEL: Exactly. Yeah. There was a pivot that took place in his administration where it wasn't just, boy, I'm uncomfortable at this. I don't support it. It was really almost a launch of a presidential campaign. It felt very odd at the time that he would really ride this issue as a governor when there were so many other issues for the state. And so it felt to many that there was a bit of a pivot, and he was saying, I've got no future in the Republican politics unless I pivot on this issue and show it to the conservatives I'm anti-gay.

RAZ: How did people in that state react, because, of course, Massachusetts is one of the - traditionally, the most liberal states in the country? Did folks in Massachusetts - were they irritated by it? Did they wonder why he was focused on it? Did they support him?

TAFEL: I think they were irritated by it. And he decided not to run for another term. For governors, that might sum it up.

RAZ: Now that this issue of gay marriage has really come to the forefront with President Obama's - first of all, let me ask you for your reaction of what - of President Obama's statements. How did you feel when you heard the president say, I support marriage equality?

TAFEL: I was very excited by it. I'm very moved by it. I know there's a lot of political calculation right now, but I kind of saw in this week with history and I saw this very historic moment for a president taking the lead on civil rights issue.

RAZ: Do you think it backs Mitt Romney into a corner?

TAFEL: I think it does box him in. He is really a moderate. That's what's hurt him in the primary. And now...

RAZ: He's truly a moderate. He's not, as he said, severely conservative?

TAFEL: Yeah. He's not severely conservative. But he's a pragmatic businessman who will do what it takes to win. And he will run an amazing campaign. And I think people underestimate his abilities. That said, personally, I think he supports civil rights. He comes from an ancestry of - his father is a champion on civil rights for African-Americans. So this is where he's coming from.

I think the Republican Party, where it stands today, for a moderate from Massachusetts who's Mormon to win the primary, he has to really cowtail to the social conservative wing of the party. And I think that's what's boxed him in because he can't win in swing states as a social conservative.

RAZ: You have written a lot about Romney and his position on gay issues. What happens if he doesn't - in your view, if he doesn't show more support for gay rights?

TAFEL: I think he's going to have to reach out to the swing states in the middle and support gay rights. He has to demonstrate in a number of ways and including his vice presidential choice. But he's going to have to find a way to say, gay marriage might be too far for me. But, look, this is who I am. And he's going to have to get right up to the president, because I think on a lot of these swing states, swing voters or independent voters are looking at those issues.

The economy will obviously dominate the selection. But they're also looking for authenticity, and that's been a challenge for Mitt Romney. And I think this marriage issue to date has been a hurt for President Obama. And I think he changed that by coming out in favor of it.

RAZ: Now that the president of the United States has come out in support of marriage equality, do you believe that the momentum is now so powerful that there's no turning back?

TAFEL: Yes. I believe that the momentum on gay marriage is inevitable. Someday we'll look at people who oppose gay marriage the way we do of people who fraud against liberating slaves. It'll be that kind of issue. We'll be embarrassed. No one will brag. And their grandchildren will brag about the fact they were opposed to gay marriage.

And if you're already speaking to young people under 30, it's almost beyond their imagination that this is an issue. So it really is a generational issue. A younger president has declared himself in favor of it. That's why I do believe it's a very historic moment. And we'll look back to it and appreciate it for the history that he created by doing it.

RAZ: That's Rich Tafel. He is the founder of the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay Republican group. In a moment, we'll explore how TV shows like "Will and Grace" and even "Modern Family" have started to change the way Americans think about gay couples. Stay with us. You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

KUER is listener-supported public radio. Support this work by making a donation today.