BOSTON -- Gov. William Weld, already established as a national leader among Republican pro-choice supporters on abortion, is about to do the same on the gay rights issue despite staff concerns he risks his national political future.
Gay rights activists said Wednesday Weld plans to sign an executive order next month recognizing same-sex relationships, granting certain rights to gay and lesbian management-level state workers.
'The greatest significance of this bill is the symbolic significance, because Gov. Weld is the first governor in the United States to officially recognize through an executive order that same-sex couples exist, that their relationships are important and that this state has an obligation to recognize the importance of these relationships,' said David LaFontaine of the Coalition for Gay and Lesbian Civil Rights.
Rosemary Dunn Dalton, a member of Weld's Advisory Commission on Women's issues, said the governor will sign the edict on Sept. 23.
The order extends to management-level state workers with same-sex partners at home the same bereavement and family-leave benefits enjoyed by heterosexuals.
The order does not affect thousands of other state employees who are covered by collective bargaining. Gay activists said they hoped it would eventually be extended to them, also.
Weld reportedly agreed to sign the edict in the face of virtual total opposition by his top staffers concerned about alienating the Republican conservative right wing if Weld becomes a presidential candidate in 1996.
The order would also put Weld at odds with President Bush's pro- family values agenda during this election campaign.
LaFontaine, who met with Weld recently to discuss the groundbreaking edict, said he hoped the governor's action would result in further gay- rights improvements in municipal governments and in the private sector.
LaFontaine said he expects it will 'spark a lot of activity among gay employees in private companies around the state.'
Regarding Weld's staff concerns about political fallout, LaFontaine said Weld 'has taken a very courageous position on abortion rights within the national Republican Party, and (he) has paid quite a heavy price for doing that.'
He said the same applies to his position on the domestic partnership executive order.
'There's quite a bit of risk for a prominant Republican to emerge as a national leader on gay rights because there's a very strong right wing element in the national Republican Party. Weld is really putting his career on the line to do something that he believes is right.'
LaFontaine said he believes Weld has a 'lot of support among rank and file Republicans' for this kind of individual rights. 'I think that we're going to see Bill Weld may emerge as a Republican presidential candidate in 1996. So even though there's a lot of political risk and there may be some fallout from the right wing element to the Republican Party, what Gov. Weld is doing is bringing about change in the GOP at the grassroots level, and sending out the message that the Republican Party at its best is a party that will make minority rights a priority.'
Weld, already described as the 'most pro-gay governor' in the nation, earlier this year established the nation's first state commission on gay and lesbian youth.