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Top Romney aide quits in face of anti-gay sentiment

Mitt Romney’s foreign policy spokesman, a gay man whose support for same-sex marriage infuriated social conservatives, abruptly resigned on Tuesday, saying the intense focus on his sexual orientation was making it impossible for him to do his job.

Richard A. Grenell, who served as the spokesman for the US mission to the United Nations under George W. Bush, revealed he was leaving less than two weeks after he was hired.

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“While I welcomed the challenge to confront President Obama’s foreign policy failures and weak leadership on the world stage, my ability to speak clearly and forcefully on the issues has been greatly diminished by the hyper-partisan discussion of personal issues that sometimes comes from a presidential campaign,’’ Grenell said in a statement. “I want to thank Governor Romney for his belief in me and my abilities and his clear message to me that being openly gay was a nonissue for him and his team.’’

Romney’s campaign manager, Matt Rhoades, said the former Massachusetts governor accepted Grenell’s decision.

“We are disappointed that Ric decided to resign from the campaign for his own personal reasons,’’ Rhoades said in a statement. “We wanted him to stay because he had superior qualifications for the position he was hired to fill.’’

The Romney campaign had said Grenell was hired because of his experience serving under John R. Bolton and three other ambassadors to the United Nations. But critics on the right expressed outrage that Romney would hire a gay man and a supporter of same-sex marriage.

“That’s like throwing salt into a wound, and that’s the absolute wrong decision if he wants to reach out to the conservative base and unite them,’’ Mathew D. Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, a conservative legal group, told the Globe earlier this week.

On Tuesday, Staver said he was pleased that Grenell had quit.

“It’s good for the campaign so that there’s no distraction from the real issues this campaign will focus on,’’ said Staver, who added that Romney’s “support among social conservatives will continue to grow.’’

R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, a group that advocates for gay Republicans, said it was not only conservatives who were to blame for forcing Grenell out of his job. He pointed out that liberal activists had criticized Grenell for working for Romney, who opposes same-sex marriage.

Grenell had also been criticized for cutting comments he had written on Twitter weeks ago about Rachel Maddow, the MSNBC host, and Callista Gingrich, wife of rival candidate Newt Gingrich.

“Essentially, he was hounded by the far right and the left,’’ said Cooper, a former counselor to the American Mission to the United Nations, who served with Grenell in the Bush administration.

“It’s unfortunate and it’s disappointing,’’ Cooper said. “The Romney campaign has lost a very well-respected advocate in the conservative community and a very talented spokesman. This guy is immensely qualified.’’

The Obama campaign pounced on Grenell’s decision, accusing Romney of caving to extremists in the Republican Party.

“Today we learned that in the year 2012, a Republican nominee for president can’t have a gay person as spokesman,’’ Teddy Goff, the Obama campaign’s digital director, wrote on Twitter.

Michael Levenson can be reached at mlevenson@globe.com.
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