MANCHESTER, N.H. — When Mitt Romney sat down next to a patron wearing a Vietnam veteran's cap, Romney wanted to ask him about his military service.
But 63-year-old Bob Garon wanted to talk about gays in the military — because he is a gay veteran.
Garon was sitting in a booth across from his husband, Bob Lemire, at Chez Vachon, a must-stop diner for politicians looking for votes in the New Hampshire primary.
Garon and Lemire eat there nearly every morning. The owners call them "The Bobs."
Surrounded by a crush of TV cameras, Romney asked Garon about his tour in Vietnam. But Garon asked if Romney would support efforts to repeal the New Hampshire law that legalized gay marriage in the state and allowed him and Lemire to marry.
Romney said he supported the repeal because marriage is between a man and a woman.
"OK, that means if you were in the White House, you would not support any form of legislation that would change that so a serviceman would be entitled to any benefits like a man and a woman?" Garon asked. "A veteran and a spouse would not be entitled to any burial benefits, or medical benefits, or anything that the serviceman has devoted his time and effort to his country, and you just don't support equality in terms of same-sex marriage?"
When a veteran dies, his or her spouse is often entitled to certain benefits, including possibly being interred next to their spouse in a military cemetery.
"I believe that marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman," Romney responded. "The Defense of Marriage Act that exists in Washington today defines benefits, whether for veterans or non-veterans as between married spouses and for me that's a man and a woman. We apparently disagree on that."
An aide tried to remove Romney from the situation, claiming the candidate had another interview with Fox News Channel.
It was the kind of unscripted encounter Romney has tried to avoid on the campaign trail, preferring instead to be surrounded by supporters or to make campaign stops without the media trailing him. He stopped at two New Hampshire establishments on Sunday to meet voters, but didn't tell reporters he was going.
Romney says he'll do more unscripted events in the next few weeks. Like them or not, he'll have to: the Iowa caucuses are about three weeks away, on Jan. 3, and the New Hampshire primary follows a week later on Jan. 10.
After Romney's aide tried to get him out of what turned into awkward diner conversation, Garon said: "Oh, I guess the question was too hot."
"No, I gave you the answer," Romney responded, saying Garon had asked for a yes-or-no answer.5 comments on this story
Garon wished him good luck and Romney moved on.
Reporters asked Garon to explain why he had questioned Romney so intently.
"Because I'm gay, all right?" Garon said. "And I happen to love a man just like you probably love your wife. Alright? And I think that he or she or whatever are entitled to the same rights that I have. I fought for my country, I did my thing, and I think that my spouse should be entitled to the same entitlements as if I was married to a woman. What the hell is the difference?"