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. Edgar

    Mr. Frank should just go away. He is part of the problem.

    June 17, 2009 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  2. history repeats

    majesty

    "these defectives people!"???

    these what!?

    June 17, 2009 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  3. No Class

    You cannot compare being Black to being gay. There is no comparison. You do not have a choice of what color you are born, but you do have a choice of whether or not you are gay.

    June 17, 2009 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  4. carlo

    You know what? I'm really sick of the gay and lesbian special interest. They have been ranting and raving since Feb. 21, and no, no one really cares what they want. I'm all for everyone having civil and legal rights, because there really should be a separation of church and state. But that's as far as I go. This world has been here since time immemorial, and in all historical accounts I have read I don't think I've seen a civilization, even the most hedonistic ones, that had gay marriages. This is even where homosexuality was widely accepted. I guess since a black man won for President they figure that now even they have a chance of getting what they want.

    June 17, 2009 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  5. John

    Who gives flip about what barney Frank says. CNN needs to divorce itself from this whole gay story and quit pandering to the gays by giving them headlines. Its an immoral, unnatural, against science, perverted act.

    June 17, 2009 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  6. sunshine

    " I am looking for news on CNN of the firing of Inspector General Walpin by Obama. He fired the Inspector General eventhough there is a law that is supposed to give 30 day notice and a valid reason to congress before a firing of Inspector Generals. This is news."

    June 17, 2009 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  7. Anonymous

    That's right Mixner, because democracy is all about buying candidates

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

    June 17, 2009 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  8. Cali J

    To: James M. Holmes

    Latest Gallup Poll:

    40% Americans consider themselves Conservative
    21% Americans consider themselves Liberal

    Next time up, bring some facts and truth with you.

    June 17, 2009 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  9. Hypocrites

    Patricia June 17th, 2009 11:54 am ET

    How can you say you're a Christian and support same sex marriages? God forbid!

    Yeah...who would Jesus hate?

    June 17, 2009 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  10. BarneyBoy

    The justice dept has a responsibility to uphold the law and the Defense of Marriage Act is the law – thank goodness.

    June 17, 2009 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
  11. Sea.gem

    Neel T.

    Wow..if your writing represents the new intellectual non-religious mind...then we are all in big trouble!

    June 17, 2009 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
  12. Sternberg

    Article IV of the Constitution, does require every State to recognize the laws of every other. Mr. Obama did swear to uphold that same Constitution.
    What are we going to do about those Mormons wanting multiple young wives? Why would that be less legal than the practice that spread AIDS around the world?

    June 17, 2009 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
  13. John M in NoHo CA

    I'm straight, but we all have to ask ourselves this: Do you choose who turns you on? Or can you merely acknowledge it as a spectator to the reaction?

    Gay marriage should never be put to a vote because a minority, by definition, cannot win. What if Lincoln had put slavery to a vote? The fact that they pass laws about it is plain unAmerican.

    It's usually the Bible-thumpers who are most unChristian about this.

    June 17, 2009 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  14. No Greater Love

    Aunt Mary,
    "I'm a Christian"
    Uhm, no you're not, my dear. I hope and pray that someday you will be, though.
    Being a Christian isn't about some denomination or group of men "defining" how you should live. It is accepting the Bible as God's infallible word and living by it, no matter how "inconvenient" it may be for you.
    Please, my dear, until you can see this, call yourself something else.

    June 17, 2009 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  15. Fairy Tales

    Chris June 17th, 2009 12:54 pm ET

    When folks start to view the Bible as a good read and not take it serious we will all be a whole lot better off!!

    AMEN to that!

    June 17, 2009 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  16. Troy, NJ

    I do not have a problem with Gays having their rights and fighting for them, but please..please..stop equating your fight to that of what blacks had to go through..Gays have never been enslaved for over 200 years and hung becasue of the color of your skin!

    June 17, 2009 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  17. sunshine

    He promised "change" not "honesty"
    Dishonesty is the one hting that will never change at the White House.
    .. or at CNN for that matter

    June 17, 2009 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  18. RobK

    What is wrong with the memo? The question to be answered is: If a state legalizes incestuous marriages, do all the other states have to recognize them? A similar question: If a state legalizes multiple spouse marriage, do all the other states have to recognize them? And apply the same questions to civil unions.

    June 17, 2009 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  19. maddogjl

    I don't want gay marriage because the gays would then rub all our noses in it by public kissing and fondling each other, which I do not think is right in front of children. I also don't think children should be taught that it is 'an acceptable lifestyle'. What they do behind closed doors is fine. But keep this 'acceptable lifestyle' out of public, thanks.
    Btw I'm a proud Democrat but I feel strongly about this issue. I think the President is right on this topic and keeping his campaign promise to defend the sanctity of marriage as between a man and a woman.

    June 17, 2009 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  20. TO SNIFFIT

    "Choose. Our laws are FORBIDDEN by the First Amendment from having anything to do with supporting, favoring, ratifying or having anything to do with religion. "

    You might want to re-read the First Amendment, my friend. It doesn't say what you think it says.

    June 17, 2009 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  21. nom deplume, esq.

    Boy, it is getting awfully crowded under Obama's bus

    June 17, 2009 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  22. Arthur P. from Ca.

    "the people have spoken ,leave the word marriage alone , it "s meant to be a union between a man and a woman , how come gays can't be satified with a civil union, we are giving you rights with benefits , be satisfied with that "

    Humm- I recall that in the South before 1954, segragation in schools was also legal and was voted on my a majority of the people. Should we go back to that? "Spearate but Equal" never is.

    June 17, 2009 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  23. jjr

    News June 17th, 2009 12:56 pm ET

    I am looking for news on CNN of the firing of Inspector General Walpin by Obama. He fired the Inspector General eventhough there is a law that is supposed to give 30 day notice and a valid reason to congress before a firing of Inspector Generals. This is news.
    ************************

    I am with you, where is the reporting? The real news is that Obama himself cosponsered that bill and then he broke his own law!!!!! However, media outside of the Wall Street Journal doesn't want to focus on any of the laws that Obama has broken.

    June 17, 2009 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  24. Kim--Straight But Not Narrow

    I'm with Bob on this one!!!! And why do we have to refer to Barny Franks as being 'openly gay'??? Following that logic, isn't the POTUS 'openly heterosexual"? And remember, it was once also "traditional" for women not to be allowed to vote. If we can all get past the rhetoric, this is simply an issue of a contract (i.e. a state-issued marriage license). Heterosexual couples can't be legally married without a state-issued license (unless you're in one of those still-backwards states that recognizes common law marriages) , so why are we denying the same license to others simply based on their sexual orientation???

    June 17, 2009 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  25. Jefe

    "Many gay activists have called on Frank and other gay members of Congress..."

    So, they've called on Barney Frank and half of the Republicans? Gay Republican Congressmen are anti-gay. It won't do them any good.

    June 17, 2009 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
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