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EILEEN MCNAMARA

A run from his record

Governor Mitt Romney is right. An amendment to the Massachusetts Constitution that would ban gay marriage but establish civil unions for same-sex couples is a muddied mess.

Of course, that is exactly what Romney wanted when he urged the Legislature to approve it 15 months ago. Fearing that lawmakers would reject an outright ban on gay marriage, Romney helped to persuade last year's Constitutional Convention to adopt the very language he now calls ''confused" and ''muddied."

You can bet the governor won't be mentioning his role in winning passage of the marriage-lite amendment as he barnstorms the country in his delusional quest for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination. Romney's record might be rife with ambiguity; his sales pitch to social conservatives is full of faux clarity on everything from gay rights to abortion and stem cell research.

The conservative primary voters Romney is courting nationally expect purity on the gay marriage issue, not the pragmatism he displayed last year when he delivered the votes of 15 House Republicans to provide the margin of victory for the compromise language he now disdains. Romney was not suddenly enamored of civil unions when he engineered that vote; he was afraid that the alternative was having no amendment at all on gay marriage to put before voters in 2006.

He might want to ask John Kerry how well it plays when you try to explain to the electorate how you were for something before you were against it.

Under the rules of the Constitutional Convention, an amendment must be approved by a majority of the 200 legislators in two successive sessions. The second roll call on the compromise amendment is expected this fall. The outcome of that vote is unlikely to please gay marriage foes in light of the recent election of two more gay marriage supporters and the resignations of three opponents.

Several Republicans refused, on principle, to go along with Romney's something-is-better-than-nothing strategy in March 2004 when the compromise passed on a 105-92 vote. House Republican leaders Bradley H. Jones Jr. and George N. Peterson Jr. described the amendment as internally contradictory and the language as too confusing, the same word the governor used when he backed away from the amendment last week before flying off to California to try and seduce Orange County Republicans.

Romney now says he favors a new, unambiguously discriminatory amendment to the Massachusetts Constitution that is being promoted by the usual happy coalition of heterocentrics, including the Roman Catholic Church. This amendment, banning gay marriage in any and all forms, is not subject to the Constitutional Convention process. It is in the form of an initiative petition, which requires the signatures of approximately 66,000 Massachusetts voters and the support of only 25 percent of the Legislature in two successive sessions. With those hurdles cleared, the question could be put to voters in 2008, coincidentally the same year that Romney imagines his name will grace the ballots of every state in the nation.

What is so sad about Romney's latest craven act of political pandering to far-flung right-wing moralists is that he knows perfectly well that the social fabric of this Commonwealth has not shredded, even a tiny bit, in the 13 months since the legalization of gay marriage. The more than 5,000 couples that have married are living contentedly next door or down the block, with no discernable impact on the good or bad marriages of their heterosexual neighbors. So benign has been the effect of same-sex marriage that in a March poll by the Globe, 56 percent of Massachusetts residents said they now support the idea.

Not that the opinion of Massachusetts voters matters much to Mitt Romney these days. It is of little consequence to him whether either of these constitutional amendments passes. He has washed his hands of Massachusetts and is running away as far and as fast as he can.

Eileen McNamara is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at mcnamara@globe.com.

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