June 17th, 2009
03:21 PM ET
5 years ago

Frank slams Obama for 'big mistake' on Defense of Marriage Act (updated)

Rep. Barney Frank says the Obama administration made a 'big mistake' on a Justice Department brief supporting the Defense of Marriage Act.
Rep. Barney Frank says the Obama administration made a 'big mistake' on a Justice Department brief supporting the Defense of Marriage Act.

(CNN) – Four days after the Justice Department filed a brief strongly supporting the Defense of Marriage Act, openly gay Rep. Barney Frank said the Obama administration made a "big mistake" and is calling on the president to clearly explain his views on the matter.

"I think the administration made a big mistake. The wording they used was inappropriate," the Massachusetts Democrat told the Boston Herald during an interview published in the paper's Wednesday edition.

Update: Rep. Frank has since said his comments were based on a flawed description of the administration's brief and believes President Obama does not deserve criticism for the document. (full statement below)

Many gay activists have called on Frank and other gay members of Congress to speak out against the recent DOJ brief, which appeared to equate gay marriage to incest in its reasoning that states have the right not to recognize gay marriages from other states.

The brief says states favor heterosexual marriages because they are the "traditional and universally recognized form of marriage," and specifically argued that the Constitution's "full faith and credit" clause - whereby states have to respect the "public acts, records, and judicial proceedings" - does not apply to gay marriage just as it does not apply to mariages involving incest.

"I've been in touch with the White House and I'm hoping the president will make clear these were not his views," Frank also said.

(Updated below the jump with latest Frank statement)

Rep. Jared Polis - another openly gay member of Congress - also criticized the Obama administration late Tuesday, saying in a statement he was "shocked and disappointed."

"Comparing my loving relationship with my partner, Marlon, to incest was unconscionable coming from a president who has called for change," he said.

The brief has set off a firestorm among prominent members of the gay community - already frustrated with the president for not taking steps to overturn the military's policy of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." While campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination last year, Obama said he was against both the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy and the Defense of Marriage Act.

"The brief …could have been written by the Rev. Pat Robertson," wrote former Clinton adviser David Mixner, now a prominent Democratic fundraiser. "Using the worst of stereotypes, it intimates that we don't have constitutional guarantees, invokes scenarios of incest, of children and advocates that we don't have the same rights as others who have struggled for civil rights. "

"What in the hell were they thinking? Or is that their thinking?" Mixner added.

CNN Radio: Senior Political Correspondent Candy Crowley weighs in on the president's move

Mixner is one of several gay Democrats to drop out of a Democratic National Committee fundraiser next week - co-hosted by Reps. Frank and Polis - featuring Vice President Biden and honoring the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community.

"How will they ever take us seriously if we keep forking out money while they harm us?" Mixner wrote.

The DNC did not respond to CNN's request for comment.

UPDATE: In a Thursday statement, Frank walked back his earlier remarks.
Full statement follows:

“When I was called by a newspaper reporter for reaction to the administration’s brief defending the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, I made the mistake of relying on other people’s oral descriptions to me of what had been in the brief, rather than reading it first. It is a lesson to me that I should not give in to press insistence that I comment before I have had a chance fully to inform myself on the subject at hand.”

“Now that I have read the brief, I believe that the administration made a conscientious and largely successful effort to avoid inappropriate rhetoric. There are some cases where I wish they had been more explicit in disavowing their view that certain arguments were correct, and to make it clear that they were talking not about their own views of these issues, but rather what was appropriate in a constitutional case with a rational basis standard – which is the one that now prevails in the federal courts, although I think it should be upgraded.”

“It was my position in that conversation with the reporter that the administration had no choice but to defend the constitutionality of the law. I think it is unwise for liberals like myself, who were consistently critical of President Bush’s refusal to abide by the law in cases where he disagreed with it to now object when President Obama refuses to follow the Bush example. It is the President’s job to try to change the law, but it is also his obligation to uphold and defend it when it has been enacted by appropriate processes. It would not be wise, in my judgment, for those of us who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, or who sympathize with the fight for our rights, to argue for a precedent that says that executives who disagreed politically with the purpose of the law should have the option of refusing to defend it in a constitutional case.”

“I strongly opposed DOMA when it was adopted and I will continue to fight for changes. I support very strongly the lawsuit brought by the people at Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) that make the cogent argument that DOMA’s provision denying federal recognition of same-sex marriages blatantly violates the equal protection clause. And I will work with the Obama administration as they have promised to do to enact laws protecting LGBT people from hate crimes, from job discrimination, and from discrimination in the military. I will also be critical when I think inappropriate language is used. But after rereading this brief, I do not think that the Obama administration should be subject to harsh criticism in this instance.”

soundoff (300 Responses)
  1. GOP = 21st century dodo

    The momentum can't be stopped. Eventually we'll have gay couples walking hand in hand even in places like Kentucky and Tennessee. Bumps on the road like this are to be expected.

    June 17, 2009 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  2. txleadhead

    Backdoor Barney, the man is an idiot. His record speaks for itself. Why is he still in office? He cost us Billions did'nt he?

    June 17, 2009 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  3. CNN = limited views....

    No gay right support no vivial rights support seems fair to me as a gay white man.

    June 17, 2009 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  4. Randall

    while I understand why Mr. Frank would care about this issue, why is that the MAJORITY of Americans are NOT gay or lesbian, and the minority that are should stay just that. Their Sexual Orientation, as it were, is not cause for special considerations under the laws. The laws are clear marriage is a woman and a man and should stay that way. This country's morales have degraded far enough

    June 17, 2009 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  5. jon c. sprowl

    i hope obama sticks to his word, but he is a democrat and they will do anything. same sex marrage is a joke, the next step will be marrying animals. god help us and our country.

    June 17, 2009 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  6. Charell Williams

    Slamming President Obama. What else is new? Mr. President, I am proud to have a leader such as yourself representing our great country. To the Senators, I plan on running for an office when I am 33 years old. It's time to enter the game.

    June 17, 2009 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  7. Zach K

    It was NOT Obama's Decision. It was the Justice Department;s that is still rotten to the core from the days of Ashcroft and Gonzales, the criminals of the Bush Administration.

    June 17, 2009 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  8. Hastey Dellinger

    Get this, Barney, you helped elect a man who doesn't have a true position on anything. He thinks this way everybody will adore him. You elected a man who cannot lead, an empty suit, just like we told you before the election.

    June 17, 2009 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  9. Insulted

    Please stop comparing the Gay Rights Activists to those who fought for Civil Rights. I cringe every time i hear the comparison, just as I cringe whenever I hear a Holocaust comparison. There is no comparison, pls argue your cause based on its own merit...you lose credibility and you're out of your league.

    June 17, 2009 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
  10. Texas Pioneer

    The Democratic vote is nice, but not much credibility here.
    Barney Frank needs to focus on what the American people have been begging for for years.
    Affordable healthcare and help to keep the middle class from completely disappering.
    All of the gay stuff should be put on the back burner until some real legislation for the masses can be completed.

    Oh and has anybody got any information about the Senate race in Minnesota.
    Is Al Franken going to be seated just in time to run for re election or is the lame media going to report on this joke of an election in Minnesota.

    June 17, 2009 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
  11. Rita Basingerr

    Hang in there President Obama for your views on gay marriage. Marriage is between a man and a woman and nothing else!!!

    June 17, 2009 02:11 pm at 2:11 pm |
  12. rb

    Hawaii gal , How can you compare Gay rights withn civil rights ? People can't help what color they are . They are born that way . Which makes it wrong to discriminate because of their color . Being Gay was a choice you made earlier on or later in your life . Which i don't have a problem with . I happen to think Gay people should have equal rights . But don't compare it with the civil rights struggle in the 60's because i haven't seen any signs that says gay people over here and straight people over there .

    June 17, 2009 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  13. johnNYC

    Just make civil unions legally equal to marriage, so that gays receive the same civil rights.

    54% of the country will be happy that the meaningless definition of "Marriage" is preserved.

    The gay community can receive the rights they deserve.

    Its that simple, gay or straight there's no reason to make it any more complicated than that.

    June 17, 2009 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  14. frank , pennsylvania

    It is time for the government to distance herself from gay troubles in order to protect the moral integrity of our future generation!

    June 17, 2009 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  15. C'mon

    When Obama was running for office he said he believed marriage is between a man and a woman. He went on to say that gay couples should still share benefits, and to have certain rights like to visit each other in the hospital when ill. Frank just hasn't been paying attention.

    June 17, 2009 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |
  16. New Yorker

    Hey Barney – Gay marriage is a threat to national security. It's one of the reasons the muslim extremists want to destroy the U.S.; before it spreads.

    June 17, 2009 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |
  17. midwest liberal

    to russell who said, "...it should be the end of the story and it 's not what most normal people..."
    ~~~
    that is one of the most ignorant statements i have ever heard. i'm gay and i consider myself very normal. it's so funny how people like you who have never been denied any of their rights are so quick to tell others who have had theirs denied to be quiet and accept the status quo.

    June 17, 2009 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |
  18. Peter E

    A now the hypocritic liberals will make excuses for Obama, after eight years of having crucified Bush for opposing gay marriage. Because if Obama says the same thing, it's okay?

    June 17, 2009 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |
  19. St Louie

    "Obama ran on support of gay rights..." Yes, he did. And if civil unions and rights to your partners isn't rights enough for you, then I just don't know what to tell you. Just because the word "marriage" isn't being used you don't have equal rights? Come on! A majority of people just don't agree with this type of lifestyle and since this is a democracy here in the good ole US of A, well, the people have spoken. Period.

    June 17, 2009 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  20. TANGERINE

    That's so cute.....the gays want to be like Normal People!!!!

    June 17, 2009 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  21. Suffern' Succotash

    Well, of course he would. If Frank is so concerned about this then he should sponsor a bill in the House to repeal DOMA. He knows the votes aren't there, so why not blast Obama. It plays to his audience.

    June 17, 2009 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  22. Johnny DC

    Too bad, Frank. More people are against gay marriage than for it, and this president only cares about being liked, not about what's right.

    Ironically, he happens to be doing what's right in this one case, in my opinion. But that's not why he did it.

    June 17, 2009 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  23. CarefulWhatUAskFor

    Let them marry. Let them suffer like the rest of us!

    June 17, 2009 02:21 pm at 2:21 pm |
  24. Anonymous

    How strange! Why it is either you are 100% for gay marriage or you are THE HATER.
    I have a news for you: most of people could not care less one way or another, especially now.

    June 17, 2009 02:21 pm at 2:21 pm |
  25. Malia

    This guy gives me a headache - JOTO!

    June 17, 2009 02:21 pm at 2:21 pm |
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