Feb. 18, 2007 — -- Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, together with his wife Ann, faced up to questions about their political, religious, and private journeys in an interview with ABC News' chief Washington correspondent George Stephanopoulos on Friday.
"I'm not running for pastor-in-chief. I'm running for commander-in-chief," Romney said, dismissing concerns about the influence of his Mormon faith on his politics. "If I'm lucky enough to be elected president of this country and I take that oath of office, there will be no higher promise than to abide by the Constitution and the rule of law."
In light of speculation among political analysts as to whether his Mormonism will alienate the Evangelical vote, the former governor highlighted common values and beliefs shared by all religions.
"I think we are, if you will, one family of humanity," Romney said, in what appeared to be an attempt to reach out to voters suspicious of his religious affiliation.
While discussing the Mormon faith, Stephanopoulos asked Romney how Muslims might view the Mormon doctrine that teaches that Jesus will probably return to the United States and reign on earth for 1,000 years. Romney responded by saying "that doesn't happen to be a doctrine of my church."
"Our belief is just as it says in the Bible, that the messiah will come to Jerusalem, stand on the Mount of Olives, and that the Mount of Olives will be the place for the great gathering and so forth," he said.
But when contacted by ABC News for a clarification of Mormon theology, a church spokesperson said the Mormon Church does teach, in part, that Jesus will someday return to North America.
"We believe that Christ will return again to the Earth, and while that day is not imminent, it is our responsibility to prepare for that eventuality. One appearance will be to the new Jerusalem and another will be to the Jerusalem of the old world," said spokesperson Michael Purdy. "It is our belief that the new Jerusalem will be established within the state of Missouri."
The interview also covered a broad range of social issues, including gay rights. Stephanopoulos asked Romney about comments he made during a campaign visit to South Carolina in 2005.
"Today, same-sex couples are marrying under the law in Massachusetts. Some are actually having children born to them," Romney said at the time. "It's not right on paper, it's not right in fact."
When asked by Stephanopoulos for clarification, Romney said he now believes that gay couples have the "right" to have children of their own.
"There are gay couples that are having children of their own and, obviously, that's their right," Romney said.
On gays in the military, while denouncing any form of discrimination based on race, religion, gender or sexual preference, Romney voiced support for a continuation of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy.
"I don't have a policy posture as to allowing gays in the military to serve there openly," Romney said.
Asked about his position on same-sex unions, the former governor reiterated his commitment to traditional marriage.
"My view is that the right model for the nation and the right standard for the nation is marriage is between a man and a woman, and a child deserves a mom and a dad," Romney said, calling for a federal amendment to define marriage.
On abortion, when Stephanopoulos asked if women who have abortions and doctors who perform them should be jailed, Romney said he would defer on the issue to the states, saying, "My view is that we should let each state have its own responsibility for guiding its laws relating to abortion."
On Iraq, the former governor backed President Bush's decision to increase the number of troops as "the right thing to do." Romney, who had visited Iraq in May 2006 to talk to troops from Massachusetts, dismissed calls for a fast pullout of U.S. troops, warning of the consequences of a power vacuum in Iraq.
"The risks are, of course, that Iran grabs the Shia south, that the Sunni portion of the country becomes dominated by al Qaeda, that perhaps Kurdish instability destabilizes the border with Turkey," Romney said, depicting the planned troop surge as a necessary effort to prevent a broader regional conflict.
The Republican presidential hopeful accused the Iranian military of supporting attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq and of playing a destabilizing role in the region. Romney reiterated his opposition to direct negotiations with the Iranian leadership about Iran's alleged nuclear program.
"I believe we should not be sitting down having a nice chat with the Iranians, but instead communicating to the religious leadership and the people that the consequences of going nuclear are very unattractive," he said.
Describing Iran as "a genocidal nation, a suicidal nation," Romney called for tighter economic sanctions.
On a personal note, Romney and his wife Ann talked about Mrs. Romney's health.
"Without question, the most difficult time in our life was when Ann was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis," the former governor said.
"I was really, really troubled. It was really tough for me," Mrs. Romney said about her disease.
Despite her MS, the governor's wife is an enthusiastic equestrian and has won several awards in dressage events nationwide.
"She won't brag on herself, but she's really extraordinary," Romney said about his wife's struggle against the disease. "The woman's a phenomenon."