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Dahir Views: Former Mass. Gov. William Weld Flips
by Mubarak Dahir
2005-08-31

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Former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld was once held up as the epitome of how a socially liberated Republican could be the best friend of the gay community.

At a meeting of the New York Log Cabin Republicans during the Republican National Convention in August 2004, Weld said that gay marriage 'is the conservative point of view. It's making the same demands on gays and lesbians as are made on everyone else when they want to commit to each other for a lifetime. I'm surprised that that is not a more broadly held point of view.'

No wonder the gay Republicans gave this man their first lifetime achievement award in 2003.

And when Kevin Smith, Weld's former chief of staff, married Mitchell Adams, Weld's former revenue commissioner, just a month after same-sex marriage became legal in Massachusetts, the former governor's image as an unwavering ally in the gay marriage crusade was solidified as he delivered the homily at the two men's wedding.

But now, Weld has fuzzied that Kodak moment. In mid-August, Weld dismayed gay advocates of all stripes, but particularly his gay Republican admirers who had so long held him up as a beacon of hope in the Republican Party.

Weld has apparently begun hedging his support for gay marriage. Essentially, Weld ended up saying he supported the right of same-sex couples to tie the knot in Massachusetts, but thought that gay and lesbian couples in other states, including New York, should be satisfied with civil unions.

The first hint of Weld's backpedaling came when the New York Post asked Weld if he supported gay marriage. He gave a one-word answer: 'No.'

Soon after, The New York Times reported Weld saying that he supported same-sex nuptials only in Massachusetts, based on the high court's reading of that state's constitution. But in New York and other places, Weld told the Times, he would only go as far as supporting civil unions.

Gay-rights activists all over the country were scratching their heads in wonder and disbelief at Weld's seemingly illogical stance that it is OK for gay people to walk down the aisle in one state, but not another.

Arline Isaacson, a Boston activist who has lobbied for expanded gay and lesbian civil rights in Massachusetts for more than two decades, gave Weld the highest possible gay superlative for his past support of same-sex marriage: 'He has been fabulously supportive of us,' she told the Boston Globe about Weld's history of supporting marriage.

She said she wanted to be sure that 'he's not being misunderstood … there was never any equivocation in the last few years about how he views same-sex marriage.'

And Patrick Guerriero—who described Weld as 'a personal friend and my political mentor'—said he was willing to give Weld 'the wiggle room to walk through this and talk through this.'

And that is exactly what the former governor seems to be doing: wiggling.

His new-found wishy-washiness on gay rights makes perfect sense. It's not logical in any way, of course. But it makes perfect political sense. And despite the fact that the former governor is now employed by a private equity firm in Manhattan called Leeds Weld & Co., he is the consummate politician.

In fact, it looks like he may well be running for office again soon.

At the end of July, New York Gov. George Pataki announced he would not seek a fourth term as the state's highest elected official.

Immediately, Weld's name was batted about as a potential successor.

Many of New York's highest-elected Republicans are a relatively moderate crowd. To wit, take former New York Mayor Rudy Guilliani, and current Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

While Pataki's record on gay rights isn't stellar, it is far from dismal.

In 2002, Pataki made a famous deal with the Empire State Pride Agenda: In return for their endorsement, he promised to get the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act passed, which had been languishing in the state's capital for 31 years, largely at the mercy of state Republican leaders. He delivered on his promise, and quickly signed the law that protected gays and lesbians against discrimination.

Following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Pataki issued an executive order recognizing the surviving partners of gays and lesbians killed in the attacks as equals to married heterosexual partners for getting compensation.

And Pataki has said he opposes amending the U.S. Constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage. But Pataki continues to oppose gay marriage. New York is a bigger, messier, more complicated kind of place than its famously liberal northern neighbor, Massachusetts. While even a Republican governor in Massachusetts can find political cover to come out in favor of gay marriage, a New York gubernatorial hopeful isn't as likely to win a mass of votes on that issue.

I suspect that Weld has realized that while New York voters don't want their Republicans to be mean-spirited, they don't want them to be Massachusetts liberal, either.

While Weld's apparent shifting in the political wind is crushingly disappointing, it really isn't surprising. Politics is about compromise, and gays and lesbians still remain pretty low on the political totem pole. That means our rights remain the ones that politicians feel they can easily compromise.

Especially when it comes to same-sex marriage. Especially after the way Bush's political team played the gay marriage trump card in the last elections. And especially since most Democrats aren't any better when it comes to gay marriage.

The saddest part in the turn-about of a politician like Weld, of course, is that, based on his previous history, it's likely that Weld actually does believe in gay marriage.

But in politics, it doesn't really matter what a candidate believes in.

All that really matters is what he is willing to stand up for.


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