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A year and-a-half ago, the Massachusetts Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in the state, igniting a national debate on the definition of marriage in America. On Thursday, legislators in Massachusetts voted to hold a constitutional convention next month to consider civil unions.
But is it just about changing the name?
Republican Mitt Romney, the governor of Massachusetts, joined Chris Matthews on Thursday to discuss the issue and his prospective candidacy for the 2008 Republican nomination.
To read an excerpt of their conversation, continue to the text below. To watch the video, click on the "Launch" button to the right.
CHRIS MATTHEWS: Do you think there's any difference, really, between a gay marriage and something called a civil union?
GOV. MITT ROMNEY, MASSACHUSETTS: Well, I would rather have neither, to tell you the truth. I'd rather that domestic partner benefits, such as hospital - hospital visitation rights for same-sex couples. I don't want civil unions or gay marriage.
But there is a difference, even when just the word is the difference. And the difference is that, if you indicate as a society that you're indifferent between a same-sex couple marrying and a heterosexual couple marrying, then it means our schools and other institutions are going to have to indicate that there is no difference whatsoever, and that obviously has societal consequences that are important.
MATTHEWS: You mean if we called it marriage II or barriage or come up with some other word, and yet the law was exactly the same, that would be significant?
ROMNEY: Well, I'm not sure we are going to come up with a different word.
But if you say that the society is entirely indifferent between whether you have heterosexuals or homosexual couples marrying, then how do you justify, for instance, having birth certificates that include the names of mothers and fathers? We have same-sex couples in my state now saying, we ought to remove mother and father from our birth certificate, instead saying parent A and parent B.
We have schools that believe that it's inappropriate to consider mother and father in textbooks. Some have said that that's two hetero-centrist.
ROMNEY: And so, you know, I think it's appropriate for us to indicate that we do care as a society and that marriage is a relationship preserved for a man and a woman.
MATTHEWS: Help me understand Massachusetts politics here. Is it a battle between a very hyped-up, passionate interest group, gay people and their supporters, against a sort of a vague opposition to it ... tell me, what is it? What is the politics of this issue? Why doesn't the state of Massachusetts, through its elected officials, simply overrule the Supreme Court up there and say, there's not going to be any gay marriage; I don't care what some judge says about the Constitution written 200 years ago? Why don't they just do that?
ROMNEY: Well, well, as you know, it's not that easy. When a court overreaches its bounds and decides to legislate from the bench, it's pretty hard to overturn that.
In our case, we have to pass a constitutional amendment. And my legislature is in, some respects, liberal. It has a conservative wing as well. But the liberal wing is fighting very hard for same-sex marriage or its legal equivalent, civil union. And so, as this has gone before the legislature in the past, they've said that the people ought to decide. I agree with them. Let's let the people decide.
So, we will have a constitutional convention this year. Hopefully, the decision of our legislature will be to let the people decide. And, specifically, I hope that people will be able to decide that neither civil union, nor same-sex marriage is legal in Massachusetts.
MATTHEWS: If they end up agreeing on a civil union solution, would you continue to fight for change to go back to the original man-and-a-woman proposition?
ROMNEY: Well, yes. I'm going to want to see a marriage limited to a man and a woman. I don't want to see civil union either.
Of course, if we find ourselves in a setting where the only choice is between civil union and marriage, I will prefer civil union. But I would prefer neither.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let me ask you this. I was going to ask it in the next segment. I want to jump ahead to it right now. My second cut at this is nationally. You're going to run for president, right?
ROMNEY: No, I haven't made any decision like that. It's way too early to think of something like that. I love being governor, love what I'm doing here.
MATTHEWS: Why do I get the impression you're running for governor, I mean, running for president?
ROMNEY: I don't know.
MATTHEWS: I get the impression you're a candidate for president. I watch this every day. I read the news. I see you're evolving on a number of these issues. You're becoming, it seems to me, pretty appropriate for the Republican Party on issues like gay marriage. And you look like you're running for president. You're not content with just being governor of Massachusetts, are you?
ROMNEY: I love being governor of Massachusetts. I'm intent on the job. Anything beyond that is something so remote, both in time and probability, it's not worth talking about at this point, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Mark Souder, a conservative from the Middle West, said that, if you don't you don't run for reelection as governor of Massachusetts, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, you will be looking like you're running away from a fight you can't win. Do you buy that assumption?
ROMNEY: Well, I win by a landslide in Massachusetts if I run for reelection. And that's very possibly what I'm going to do.
But, fundamentally, what I'm doing here is trying to get an agenda through that includes a health care plan that gets everybody health insurance, that it reforms our school system and that builds more jobs here. That's what I'm fighting for. And anything beyond that, time will only tell.
MATTHEWS: Do you think that the Republican nomination for 2008 is open now; there is no clear front-runner?
ROMNEY: Well, I think John McCain is a front-runner, perhaps Rudy Giuliani, Senator Frist. There are a number of folks that are very strong. We have a very strong field. And I want to make sure that we see some strong names continue to be out there fighting very hard, because I think Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee. And given the challenges our nation faces, I can't imagine anything worse than having her as president.
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