Yesterday, I saw the headline "Mormon church softening on gay marriage" and just had to read. Since the media is usually a century or so behind in the way they talk about LDS issues, I wondered if maybe they were confusing the church-state tension over plural marriage then with gay marriage now? It seemed like as good an explanation as any other.
It turned out they were confused, but in a way that's actually more revealing. The article was about evolving church teachings about and for gay church members (which puts it only 15-20 years behind, not 100)--whoever wrote the headline just assumed that being comfortable with the idea that awesome people have different orientations automatically equates to support for gay marriage.
But in the case of the Church, it doesn't. As far as I can tell, the Church today is striving to be affirming toward (and increasingly sensitive to) same-sex-oriented members committed to celibacy, charitable and understanding to individuals who choose to pursue same-sex relationships (though uncompromising on the teaching that sex is only right in the context of faithful opposite-sex marriage), and to balance significant political opposition to gay marriage with support for the civil rights of gay people (in areas such as housing, employment, and protections from violence).
It's a fairly balanced, moderate position--on an issue where few people are able to recognize that such positions exist.
It seems to me that, sadly, America is moving toward a very binary views of gay rights. EITHER you are pro-LGBT: accepting all committed sexual relationships as equal, attending pride rallies, and (in the case of the T) seeing gender as a personal choice, OR you are anti-LGBT and pretty much in line with the Westboro Baptist Church in your view of LGBT people, only less vocal about it. The erroneous headline "Mormon Church softening on gay marriage" suggests to me that any mid-points are seen as evidence of a shift toward one pole or another, not as viable long-term positions.
If you're interested in how attitudes around this issue are evolving, take a look at the video in the article. Try not to get too offended--the useful thing is to identify to what the gap between Romney and the commentator is, not just to recognize that Romney's statements are being mischaracterized (I like to call it "uncharitably interpreted").
Romney seems to stand for a version of gay rights that recognizes prejudice against gays and attempts to redress it in general human rights areas. His goal is to treat people as people: to create, if you will, a sexual-orientation-blind society, where it's no one's business who you're attracted to and it's illegal to refuse to hire someone or rent them an apartment or anything like that on the basis of orientation. His points to gay members of his team to say that he works with people based on competence, not based on orientation. His comment about "later finding out" judicial appointees were gay is not, I think, some sort of excuse for having appointed gay judges, but rather an indication that "are you gay?" is not part of his background check or interview process. When hiring, Mitt Romney insists he simply doesn't care whether you're gay (and his track record seems to support that assertion). He finds the sin question irrelevant, probably, because it's sort of like finding out Romney believes drinking coffee is a sin and assuming that means he'll discriminate against people who drink coffee. Mitt Romney doesn't want to answer questions about sin in part because he believes in equal legal rights for sinners, from those who use four-letter words to those shop on Sunday to those who have sex outside of opposite-gender marriage.
I think the way Romney distinguishes between his support for gay rights and his opposition to gay marriage is in his insistence that marriage is, by definition, between a man and a woman. He would support the right of any man and any woman to marry each other--even if that man and woman are gay--but for obvious reasons, not many people are interested in that right. It's still worth noting, though, because it suggests that Romney doesn't see himself as offering gay Americans "some of the rights" of straight Americans: he genuinely believes he's offering to protect all the rights every American is equally entitled to. He just thinks that the right of any American, gay or straight or somewhere in-between, to marry a member of the same-sex is a new right, and it's one he doesn't support.
Now, I can understand that for many gay rights advocates, that sort of position is simply not enough. But it's a bit of a stretch to treat it as anti-gay and it's unfair (not to mention bizarre) to suggest from Romney's comments that he wants to distance himself from his judicial appointments of gay people--or, in Romney's terms, people who happen to be gay.
No one really benefits, I think, from trying to push Romney's position into a binary model of pro-gay or hateful.
And, since this is my religious blog, I will add that no one benefits when religious people cast the issue as pro- or anti-faith. Are we guilty of assuming that anyone who supports gay rights is also against our religious rights? If so, we need to repent. Because no one benefits from that sort of either-or thinking.