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Romney links gay marriage, US prestige

Says nation cannot lead and allow legalization

SALT LAKE CITY -- Speaking before an adoring audience of Utah Republicans last night, Governor Mitt Romney drew a link between America's prestige around the world and the legalization of same-sex marriages in Massachusetts.

''America cannot continue to lead the family of nations around the world if we suffer the collapse of the family here at home," Romney said, calling the Supreme Judicial Court's legalization of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts ''a blow to the family."

Hours after gay marriage supporters in Boston criticized him for his recent, strident criticism of same-sex marriage, Romney delivered a half-hour speech laced with references to religion, family values, and praise for Ronald Reagan's foreign policy. In the latest in his recent series of out-of-state political appearances, he smiled as Utah Republicans made fun of Massachusetts' liberal reputation in their introductory remarks.

''I'm happy to be in my home away from home, here," Romney said, gushing at the mountain views and the abundance of Republicans. ''I love it here!"

He quoted what he said was an excerpt from the book, ''The Wealth and Poverty of Nations," by Harvard professor David S. Landes, declaring, ''If we learn anything from the history of economic development, it is that culture makes all the difference.

''America's culture is also defined by the fact that we are a religious people," Romney said. ''We recognize our God not only in our Declaration of Independence, but even in our currency. And we are also unique in that we recognize that the family is the fundamental building block of American society."

Romney said he took the same hard line toward balancing the budget at the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics in 2002 that he's taken in Massachusetts, where he initially faced a $3 billion deficit and had vowed not to raise taxes.

''We cut more state and city workers in Massachusetts than any other state in America," Romney said. ''We found a way to do more with fewer."

Romney did not elaborate on the assertion. The US Department of Labor reported last year that Massachusetts cut deeper into its government workforce than any other state during the recent economic downturn.

The Labor Department reported that between 2001 and 2003, a period that began before Romney took office, Massachusetts cut its payroll by 5 percent. The Globe reported last year that the federal numbers for 2004 showed that cities and towns were hiring again, but that the number of state workers continued to drop.

Romney delved into foreign policy, which he seldom mentions in Massachusetts. He sounded at times more like a candidate for national office than the chief executive of a Northeast state.

''Ronald Reagan is one of my heroes," Romney said as he praised Reagan's strategy for winning the Cold War: ''We win; they lose."

He blasted Democrats in Congress for criticizing the military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, which he said are succeeding. ''To those who yearn for world peace, I hope they remember that its staunchest ally is a strong America," Romney said.

Romney's trips out of Massachusetts have fueled rampant speculation that Romney will seek the Republican nomination for the presidency in 2008 and prompted criticism from Democrats and liberal activists.

At the State House yesterday, about 40 gay rights advocates, including Hillary and Julie Goodridge, the couple who were lead plaintiffs in the court case that legalized same-sex marriage in Massachusetts, decried remarks Romney made in a speech to South Carolina Republicans last weekend.

In that speech, Romney said, ''Some [same-sex couples] are actually having children born to them." Complaining about an effort to use gender-neutral language to describe parents on birth certificates, he also said: ''It's not right on paper. It's not right in fact. Every child has a right to a mother and a father."

''To us, it sounded as if you were using certain Massachusetts families either to garner applause or as a laugh line," said Hillary Goodridge, reading aloud part of a letter that was delivered to Romney aides yesterday.

''We want to remind you that gay parents and lesbians raising children are real parents who share with every other parent the same hopes and dreams for their children."

In a sign of other political trouble at home yesterday, US Senators Edward M. Kennedy and John F. Kerry, both Democrats, wrote a letter to Romney imploring him to fight President Bush's plans to slash federal funding to Massachusetts cities. A local labor union also called him a ''flip-flopper" for vetoing retroactive pay raises for UMass workers after giving such raises to his senior staff.

But in Salt Lake City last night, Romney's opposition to gay marriage and the signs that he is interested in running for the White House were warmly encouraged. He repeated virtually the same lines about gay parents last night, to the applause from the political figures, donors, and business executives who were on hand at the fund-raising dinner for the Salt Lake County Republican Party.

''There's a rumor that's going around Washington that Mitt might come to Washington in 2008, and I would be delighted to welcome him," Utah's junior US senator, Robert F. Bennett, said to applause from the several hundred guests.

Romney smiled as Republican speakers poked fun at the Bay State. US Representative Rob Bishop of Utah called Romney's home state the ''People's Commonwealth of Massachusetts" and joked that it ''has a tax rate lower than Sweden's, kinda."

Picking up on the theme, Governor Jon Huntsman Jr. welcomed Romney and his family to ''a roomful of good Republicans, which is something I know they never see at home."

He called Romney ''the most exciting and impressive leader in the Republican Party today" and joked about his full head of hair, full bank account, and blonde wife.

''People will speculate about 2008, of course they will, because he's such an extraordinary leader," Huntsman said.

As guests filed into the ballroom for dinner, Romney greeted each one at the door. He posed for photographs, shook hands, and said hello to old friends.

In an interview, US Senator Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, called Romney a ''terrific manager."

''If he chooses to run for president, and he can overcome the Atlantic Coast-Northeast very liberal image, I think he has an excellent chance to be president," Hatch said.

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