Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito, who a decade ago was one of the leading Republican lawmakers seeking to ban gay marriage, will officiate at state Senate President Stanley Rosenberg’s wedding to his domestic partner, according to people with knowledge of her decision.
Rosenberg, a liberal Democrat, is set to marry Bryon Hefner, his longtime partner, but his aides said no date has been set.
Polito’s role in the ceremony marks a further statement by her that she has cut her ties to the socially conservative wing of the Republican Party, a base she used to win elections as a state representative from her Shrewsbury-area district and for her campaign for state treasurer in 2010.
As recently as several years ago, she allied herself with antigay activist Brian Camenker and spoke glowingly of former US representative Allen West of Florida, another strong opponent of gay marriage.
When the Supreme Judicial Court legalized gay marriage in 2003, Polito consistently voted in the Legislature for constitutional bans that would have overruled the justices’ decisions.
Her public conversion — she previously supported civil unions but not gay marriage — seems to have come in 2013, when Charlie Baker, then the leading candidate for the GOP nomination for governor and a strong supporter of gay marriage, asked her to join him on his ticket. When she agreed, one of the issues that needed to be worked out was her opposition to same-sex unions.
Polito declined to comment Tuesday, referring questions about her role in the Rosenberg-Hefner marriage to the Senate president’s office.
Rosenberg’s press aide, Pete Wilson, could not confirm the date of the wedding or Polito’s involvement.
Polito, who already was drawing criticism for her switch on such a volatile social issue, came under fire from social conservatives within the state GOP ranks.
“It is mind-boggling to me. . . . This is an issue that you can’t flip-flop easily on,’’ said Mary Lou Daxland, president of the Massachusetts Republican Assembly, a conservative group active in party politics. “It is a principle early in life, and you don’t waffle on it.’’
Polito’s conversion to supporting gay marriage was subtle enough to keep the criticism muted. But Daxland said her decision to officiate a same-sex wedding for a liberal state political figure rankles her colleagues.
“It is one thing to say, ‘I am for gay marriage,’ it’s another to go and officiate at one,’’ Daxland said. “I don’t know what is in her head.’’
Another assembly board member accused Polito of switching her positions for political gain by catering to socially liberal groups that could advance her public career.
“lt is the politically expedient thing for Karyn Polito to do,’’ said Ron Beaty, a former GOP state Senate candidate from West Barnstable.
Hefner, who has worked for Republicans in the past, supported Baker and Polito in the 2014 campaign, ruffling feathers in some Democratic circles because of his relationship with Rosenberg.
He once tweeted a photo of himself and Polito standing with Baker and his wife, Lauren. “Let’s move Massachusetts forward,” he wrote.
Hefner’s relationship with Rosenberg has been controversial. Hefner, 27, was accused of meddling in the affairs of the Senate, according to Globe stories last fall.
At the same time, Hefner was employed by Boston-based Regan Communications, which had marketed its ability to “help clients build strong relationships with key lawmakers.” The firm has since dropped that description. Hefner, who is job searching, blamed the publicity for his decision to resign from his position.
George Regan, the company’s president, said Regan Communications would consider hiring him in the future, but not at this time.
“We are very well set in the arena he works in,” he said. “He did a good job for this company, and in the future we would take a look at him.’’
Frank Phillips can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.