Friday, May 25, 2012

Does Mitt Romney's Mormonism matter?

That's the the topic of my column with Ben Boychuk for Scripps Howard this week. I answer in the kind-of-affirmative:
Let's give thanks for progress: A black man and a Mormon will compete for the presidency this November. More people from more backgrounds than ever can fully participate in our politics -- thanks largely to the efforts of American liberals. 
Romney doesn't get a free pass for his faith, however. 
Don't misunderstand: If you vote for a candidate based on the Nicene Creed, say, then you're being silly and maybe a little un-American. We're electing a president, not a pope. 
But a candidate's policies are fair game, as is the worldview that shapes those policies. Faith often shapes a candidate's worldview. Romney's opposition to abortion reportedly springs from the teachings of his church: That's a topic that can't and shouldn't be avoided in a presidential campaign. 
Other issues in which Romney's faith may be a factor: 
-- Race: Until 1978, the Mormon church refused to ordain black men into the priesthood. Romney was a 31-year-old adviser to the leader of the Boston church when the policy changed: What was his view of it, and how might it affect how he governs a multiracial America? 
-- Feminism: The church long discouraged mothers from working outside the home -- and Romney reportedly refused to help a couple adopt a child until the mother was able to quit her job. How would that viewpoint affect Romney policies on workplace discrimination or child-care tax credits? 
-- Same-sex marriage: Romney's opposition to marriage equality reportedly springs from his faith, and Mormons were big contributors to the campaign for California's Proposition 8 banning gay marriages. Now there are questions about whether Romney would even permit gays to adopt. 
Church membership isn't an immutable characteristic. It's a choice. 
Certainly, Republicans feel that way when the church is led by Jeremiah Wright. The election isn't about Romney's theology -- but it is about his beliefs. Americans deserve a chance to understand them.
Ben, in his response, says that presidents don't set adoption policies, which are the province of the state. True, but only so true: The federal government offers adoption tax credits that gay couples already have a hard time claiming. For better or worse, the feds have a role in the issue—which makes Romney's recent waffling all the more troubling.

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