BOSTON (AP) - Conservatives concerned about inconsistencies in Republican Mitt Romney's record on gay 'marriage' and abortion said Tuesday the Massachusetts governor has some explaining to do.
For now, at least, the potential presidential candidate isn't talking.
The governor's office issued a brief statement last weekend amid reports of a 1994 letter in which Romney, then a Senate candidate, pledged to be a more effective champion for gay causes than his opponent, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass.
The statement said the governor has been a "champion of traditional marriage."
At a gathering of San Diego County Republicans on Monday night, Romney brushed aside a question from The Associated Press. "Thanks, I have other people to talk to right now," he said.
An adviser to Romney's political action committee, Barbara Comstock, issued a statement Tuesday night saying that the governor defends traditional marriage and opposes "unjust discrimination against anyone" but doesn't see a need for new or special legislation. Romney also agrees with President Bush's decision to maintain the military's "don't ask, don't tell policy" regarding homosexuals, she said.
Such responses may not satisfy conservatives, who hold critical sway in the primaries and could opt for other possible candidates with strong records on social issues such as Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback and Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
Several conservative leaders are seeking answers from Romney.
"I am concerned and I do think he needs to explain this," said Paul Weyrich, chief executive officer of the Free Congress Foundation. "Because he either is or isn't in favor of the homosexual agenda and we need to know before we would get involved in his candidacy."
Richard Land, a top member of the Southern Baptist Convention, was among a group of evangelicals who met with Romney at his home in October. Land said Tuesday, "Christians believe in conversion, and so they're open to listen, but when a candidate 12 years ago says he is more of a champion on these issues than Ted Kennedy, that needs to be explained."
Tom Minnery, spokesman for Focus on the Family, the Colorado-based evangelical organization, said homosexuality is an emotional issue.
"You've got to be committed to your position for it or against it or you'll be swayed, so he's got a lot of explaining to do," Minnery said of the governor.
Romney has repeatedly stated his opposition to gay marriage, but in the 1994 letter — sent in the final weeks of his failed Senate campaign against Kennedy — he cited his sensitivity to the concerns of Log Cabin Republicans, the gay GOP group.
"As a result of our discussions and other interactions with gay and lesbian voters across the state, I am more convinced than ever before that as we seek to establish full equality for America's gays and lesbian citizens, I will provide more effective leadership than my opponent," Romney wrote.
During that same campaign, Romney also stated his personal opposition to abortion, but said he would not seek to change state abortion laws. As proof, he cited his mother's own 1970 candidacy for the U.S. Senate as an abortion rights supporter.
During Romney's 2002 gubernatorial campaign, supporters distributed fliers at a Gay Pride Parade in Boston extending the candidate's well wishes.
Weyrich said other conservatives had complained that Romney did not do enough this year to force the Massachusetts legislature into voting on a proposed constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman.
Despite the governor's protests, the Democratic majorities in the House and Senate used a parliamentary tactic to recess rather than vote. Romney has now joined a group asking the Supreme Judicial Court — the same group of jurists who in November 2003 made Massachusetts the first state to allow gay marriage — to force a vote or else order the question onto the state's 2008 ballot.
Prior to Romney's appearance in San Diego on Monday, members of the conservative community circulated e-mails criticizing the governor for being a RINO — Republican In Name Only.
Associated Press writer Allison Hoffman contributed to this report from San Diego.
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