The Craven Mitt Romney

Quick Update: "Obama does it too" is not a substantive reply. It's a dodge. Obama's position on gay marriage has been repeatedly dissected on this very blog and deep into the comments. Nothing about Barack Obama being wrong makes Mitt Romney right. "Obama does it to" is just a clever attempt to change the subject.

At an event that was meant to highlight the endorsement of Romney by Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas, veteran Bob Garon of Ebson, N.H., asked the presidential candidate, who stopped by his breakfast table, whether he supports the repeal of the New Hampshire same-sex marriage law. A Republican-controlled legislature has moved toward repealing the law, enacted in 2009 when Democrats controlled the legislature. 

A vote could come next month. Romney told Garon, who was chowing down on his everyday staple of scrambled eggs and shaved ham at the restaurant Chez Vachon, that he supports a repeal of the same-sex marriage law, prompting an emotional exchange. 

"I believe a marriage is between a man and a woman," Romney said, joining Garon in the diner booth after shaking hands with several other patrons. Garon responded, clarifying that what that meant was that if Romney is elected he would not support any legislation that would change the law so that gay servicemen would get the same benefits as heterosexual couples. 

"I believe marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman," Romney said. "We apparently disagree on that."

Afterwards reporters asked Garon about the exchange and why he felt so strongly:

Garon was sitting in a booth with his husband, whom he said he married in June. "I went and fought for my country and I think my spouse should be entitled to the same [benefits as they would] if I were married to a woman," he said. "What the hell is the difference?"

The difference is that asking people to die for this country, while denying them the full rights accorded other citizens, is an ancient and disreputable tradition. Daniel Walker Howe, in his award-winning history, notes how Andrew Jackson won the Battle of New Orleans with a truly American army of blacks, Native Americans and Irishmen, and then went on to become his country's foremost white supremacist. 

Blacks fighting in the Civil War suffered mortality rates 35 percent higher than their white comrades. Moreover, they faced court martial and execution at much higher rates. If they surrendered they were subject to enslavement, torture or massacre. Ten percent of all troops who fought for the Union were black. For their sorrows, they were turned over to the tender mercies of Red Shirts and White Liners and their sacrifice was erased from the history books:

The American Negroes are the only people in the history of the world, so far as I know, that ever became free without any effort of their own...[The Civil War] was not their business. They had not started the war nor ended it. They twanged banjos around the railroad stations, sang melodious spirituals and believed that some Yankee would soon come along and give them forty acres and a mule.

That was 1928. In a biography of Grant. 

Others smarter than me can fill in the history of Native Americans, of Japanese-Americans, of Latinos, of women, who fought and loved their country in spite of itself. But the tradition of asking people to die for America abroad, while denying their American-ness at home, is one fully embraced by modern conservatism. And not simply by its rabble-rousers, but by its intellectual architects like William F. Buckley. 

As sure as Buckley lived to repent his endorsement of everything from segregation to apartheid (an endorsement financed by the South African government, no less.) I expect that many of the same people who, like Romney, support enshrining discrimination in the Constitution will themselves repent. It's always easier to speak justice when the crowd has turned.

Mitt Romney should be ashamed of himself. 
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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