MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
Same-sex couples from across the country gathered on Capitol Hill today to lobby Congress. They want lawmakers to make it easier for gays and lesbians to marry, be foster parents and adopt children. Their day of lobbying was planned before President Obama said he supports gay marriage, but now, the cause is getting new attention in the presidential campaign.
NPR's Jennifer Ludden reports.
JENNIFER LUDDEN, BYLINE: In his announcement, Mr. Obama invoked same-sex staff members and friends who are raising children. In media interviews since then, Mitt Romney has said children ideally need a mother and a father. In fact, he'd push for a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man and a woman. Still, Romney told Fox News same-sex adoption is fine.
MITT ROMNEY: If two people of the same gender want to live together, want to have a loving relationship, and even want to adopt a child in my state, individuals of the same sex are able to adopt children. In my view, that's something which people have the right to do.
LUDDEN: Later, though, Romney said he was merely acknowledging that same-sex adoptions are allowed in many states. It was the latest in a series of seemingly contradictory statements - over many years - that have left supporters and opponents alike wondering just where Romney stands on gay and lesbian rights.
BRYAN FISCHER: When you try to be everything to everybody, you wind up being nothing to nobody.
LUDDEN: Bryan Fischer is with the American Family Association, a conservative Christian group. He suggested that homosexuality is abnormal and immoral, and says Romney's muddled statements on gay adoption are terrible.
FISCHER: It will certainly help evangelical voters develop a little bit of enthusiasm for Governor Romney, if he will come out firmly on the side of adoptive children needing to be placed in two-parent opposite sex households.
LUDDEN: But an internal GOP memo leaked last week offers the opposite advice. A Republican pollster warns that support for gays and lesbians is shifting fast. Even most Republicans, he writes, support legal protection for same-sex couples.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I need everybody from here and here to move in toward the middle. Squish.
LUDDEN: On the edge of the National Mall today, dozens of moms, dads and kids posed for a group photo, framed by the U.S. Capitol.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Say, Cheese.
UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Cheese.
LUDDEN: They're part of some 700,000 same-sex families raising children in every state of the U.S. despite laws that can make that difficult.
JENNIFER CHRISLER: Today, in the United States, there's kind of a patchwork of state laws.
LUDDEN: Jennifer Chrisler heads the Family Equality Council, which organized this lobbying day. She says public policy toward same-sex families is out of sync with reality.
CHRISLER: The 12 states where couples are most likely to be raising kids are states like Mississippi and Montana and Kentucky and Louisiana. And those are the states that actually have some of the worst policy.
LUDDEN: President Obama has endorsed, in principle, bills that would make it easier for same-sex couples to marry, to foster children and adopt them. But Chrisler says Romney's position - accepting adoption, but opposing marriage - leaves families vulnerable.
ANN FEELEY-LEETZ: I'm Ann Feeley and Lori Feeley-Leetz and Katie Feeley-Leetz and Sam Feeley-Leetz.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Hi.
LUDDEN: The kids are eight and nine. They're Ann's by birth. Lori has helped raised them from birth, but the state of Virginia, where they live, does not recognize her as a parent.
LORI FEELEY-LEETZ: If we were traveling and something happened to Ann, unfortunately, I have no legal rights. I mean, they could put the kids on a plane and send them, and I would have absolutely no say about it, and it scares me.
LUDDEN: In Texas, Bryan Carr and his partner have 10-year-old twins. As an accountant, he sees things from a business perspective and says same-sex families get a raw deal.
BRYAN CARR: Even though we're both legal parents, we cannot get a family insurance policy. So we actually have to get separate insurance policies, which cost way more.
LUDDEN: And Carr says they pay tens of thousands more in income tax because they can't file jointly.
The list of bills he and others support has little chance of passage in this Congress. But in making the rounds on Capitol Hill, children in tow, they hope some lawmakers will feel their own views on same-sex rights evolving.
Jennifer Ludden, NPR News, Washington.