Don’t you just hate it when Republican Massachusetts governors kowtow to the right wing outside the Commonwealth? Bad enough that Mitt Romney is out on the presidential trail bashing homosexuals and stem cells. Now, following his lead, comes William F. Weld, candidate for New York governor.
Once upon a time, William Weld fancied himself a maverick. He was determined to bring issues such as gay rights and women’s right to choose into the big tent of the Republican Party. He seemed to enjoy being shunned, booed, and heckled for his views at the 1992 GOP national convention.
Today, all that has changed. Weld, courting state conservatives, has done an about-face on gay marriage and has gone into hiding on other key social issues.
Right from the start of his current political campaign, launched in August, Weld beat a retreat on his previous support for gay marriage. He finalized his reversal on February 13, speaking to the New York Conservative Party, saying that as governor he would veto any legislation to legalize same-sex marriage.
In the resulting flurry of flip-flop accusations in the New York media, Weld has tried to insist that he never, in fact, favored gay marriage at all. Statements he made applauding the Massachusetts Goodridge decision that legalized such marriages, and urging Bay State pols not to amend the state constitution to ban them, were merely legal interpretations, he now claims.
Poppycock, says Arlene Isaacson, who led the state’s lobbying effort as chair of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus. She was in the audience in late 2003, after the Goodridge decision came down, when Weld addressed the local Log Cabin Republicans, a conservative gay organization that supports same-sex marriage. “There was no equivocating whatsoever in his remarks,” Isaacson says. “He analogized it to civil rights, and civil unions to a clear and unequivocal injustice.”
Weld still counts gay friends among his supporters, including Mitchell Adams, whose wedding Weld officiated in 2004. Adams tells the Phoenix that he remains solidly behind his friend and takes Weld’s recent remarks as interpretation of New York’s constitution.
Meanwhile, he has gone AWOL on abortion. In a February 21 Associated Press story, Weld was the only New York gubernatorial candidate — of either party — to not take a position on a bill that would allow pharmacies to dispense emergency-contraception pills. And his campaign Web site makes no mention of abortion. (The Weld campaign did not respond to inquiries for this article.)
It’s far from clear that gay marriage is a losing issue in New York. According to a 2005 Empire State Pride Agenda poll, just more than half of New Yorkers — even 44 percent of upstate residents and 36 percent of Republicans — say that they favor same-sex marriage.
“In the past few months Mr. Weld has run a Kentucky trade school into the ground and pandered to the far right with a major flip-flop,” says New York State Democratic Party chairman Herman “Denny” Farrell Jr. “This is quite an introduction to New York voters.”