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. Zeb

    Yes, Dutch/Bad Newz, VA, do call it anything but marriage! Marriage as an institution has failed badly and straight people are adulterous, divorcing fools. Choose a more dignified term for gay unions, please.

    June 17, 2009 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  2. papa

    This is what happens when a politicians trys to play both sides of an issue. How can you be for gay rights and against them at the same time? Quite a balancing act. I think this administration is trying to please everyone – and pleasing no one. I think the honeymoon is close to being over. Oh for the days of a politician actually believing in something besides getting elected.

    June 17, 2009 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  3. latino

    As I see the current administration adopting new regulations based on positioning itself for 2012 elections and to get the support of different groups of power I confirm that Obama and the goup close to him that brought him to power are typical politicians who are thirsty for power. that is the major reason that moves them access to power their political career comes first and everything else including values and principles comes second. Obama has again and again showed that to be his pattern and many Americans are blind and were influeced by a bias Media including the one we are in C.N.N

    June 17, 2009 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  4. Reformed Republican

    DOMA was the GOP's payback to the evanglicals for their support of the rethuglicants. It should be repealed and sent to the ever growing trash heap of failed religious agendas enacted on behalf of the militant religious right by the GOP....

    June 17, 2009 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  5. carlo

    In fact most Americans are liberal in thier social issues…
    ******************************************************************
    No we're not. We are liberal from the standpoint that we feel that everyone should have an opportunity for success, and that we have a special repsonsibilty for children, the sick, the elderly, and the helpless. A lot of people mistake liberal for a belief in anything goes. It's not the same thing. Ironically, gays and lesbians totally tick off minorities when they compare themselves to them, because any minority can tell its not the same. Plus, most minorities are realy opposed to the word "marriage" being attached to gay, but we just don't care what you do on your time.

    June 17, 2009 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  6. Pat F

    Look at California – Obama carried it with a ton of votes, and still the proposition reversing gay marriage passed with a ton of votes. African- and Hispanic-American voters are not pro-gay. Also, even though the Democratic Party with their teachers' union bosses have tried to kill charter schools for years, they are thriving because African and Hispanic Americans support them.

    Moral: The extreme left wing of the Democratic Party is splitting into a million little pieces. Couldn't happen to a nicer crowd.

    June 17, 2009 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  7. Ted

    "Religions is ridiculous and has caused more damage than good…. "

    This comment says an awful lot about you.

    The idea that "religions is ridiculous" is absurd. Which religion? All of them? How about Humanism? Atheism? If we throw out all religion, what are we left with? Everyone believes in something religiously even if its something as foolish as themselves.

    June 17, 2009 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  8. Desert Lion

    The President and Vice President made it clear during the campaign and during the debate that they believe marriage is between one man and one woman. I believe no further clarification is necessary. They have no time to deal with gay right issue. Sorry Frank nice try.

    June 17, 2009 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  9. Kate

    Don't we have bigger things to worry about? We are a country in recession and it seems we can't get a good grasp to turn it around. We have individuals defrauding people out of their life savings, we have big companies closing their doors leaving millions without jobs to feed their families. Crime is going up because of the jobless, and we are still debating this issue. Obama should stop flying around and using so much gas that the taxpayers are paying for and sit in his office and figure it all out. This president is just for "Show" and nothing more.

    June 17, 2009 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  10. knm

    @ Hate Gays – I think there is a church in Topeka run by Fred Phelps that would love to have you hold up a sign somewhere. I can't believe the hate on this blog.

    June 17, 2009 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  11. BK

    Barney Frank and Chris Dodd should be fired now! They did not do their jobs, neither did Geithner and guess who is supposed to be over seeing the NEW Oversight committee? These same people that should have been fired. Obama fires the CEO of GM and the inspector that was never notified by law 30 days ahead of time. He got fired because he was investigating one of Obama's friends. We want honesty, not the same old crap.

    The dems just took out an amendment to stop sending money to Accorn that is being investegated. Where is the people that are supposed to look out for us? Dem or Rep. they are all crooks. We need to throw all these people out.

    June 17, 2009 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  12. Andy Perrault

    If Mr. Frank spent as much time on the country's business as he does gay issues we as a country would be in a lot better shape. I

    June 17, 2009 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  13. JS007

    Frank is right. I don't see how gay marriage is in any way equal to incest. Looks like we may have some Bush-era holdovers in the Obama administration. Of course, Obama is not making things much easier by sitting on the fence on things such as the ridiculous firings of valuable military staff just because they happen to be gay (under Don't Ask Don't Tell). At the same time the US military is sending sick and stressed out service members on multiple tours of duty.

    June 17, 2009 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  14. Andi

    why do we have to spend valuable time and resources on a 'defense of marriage' act? I think we have bigger fish to fry

    June 17, 2009 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  15. carlo

    Hate Gays June 17th, 2009 12:47 pm ET

    I'm sick of gays always crying about something. They make me sick.
    *****************************************************************
    I'm not holding up the banner for gay marriage myself, but you really shouldn't hate anybody.

    June 17, 2009 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  16. CS in PA

    It's the economy stupid....

    June 17, 2009 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  17. Gordon Shumway

    I didn't catch the inappropriate wording Bernard took exception to. Since homosexuality is his most authoritative subject, I would expect him to correct his leader and his supposed firm turn-around on the subject. Perhaps Obama was just confusing gay marriage with his gay health care issues.

    June 17, 2009 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  18. J.C.

    Rep Frank has failed badly as chair of the House Financial Services Committee. He should either pay more attention to his job or get off it for a better rep to do the job.

    June 17, 2009 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  19. Willy Brown

    Can anyone get Barney to say suffering succotash 3 on national TV?

    June 17, 2009 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  20. Rod from Indy

    Civil unions are a perfectly good compromise. Even though I personally find homosexuality disgusting and abnormal, no one should be kept from seeing a loved one dying in the hospital, or from enjoying some basic insurance benefits. That being said, the argument that they are born that way is absolutely inept. I read the so-called medical study supporting such a claim, and it was bought and paid for by gay advocacy, included more possibles and maybes than a politician's speech, and was simply a very blunt tool for assuaging families' guilt over having a homosexual in their family. It was junk medicine/science at its worst. Sorry moms and pops out there...It is your fault.

    June 17, 2009 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  21. Fairy Tales

    Lee June 17th, 2009 12:16 pm ET

    Fox is the only station with REPORTER. The other stations parrot what theObama administration wants them to say.

    There are none so blind as those who cannot see..

    June 17, 2009 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  22. Jack Santini

    i really wonder how things would be if homo marriages were allowed, while forbidding non-homo marriages...everywhere on this Earth... pretty scary huh?

    The most basic nature laws would be jeopardized.. jeez! I keep on sayin' it: being gay is wrong, wrong, wrong..i don't care how you see it. Fays fight for their rights; let's say they get it; then what else? Come on people! We've got better issues to worry about.

    June 17, 2009 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  23. Sorry

    Not all Democrats or Obama supporters support gay marriage. Most Hispanics, Blacks, Asians, and Arabs in America share this in common with so-called "conservatives."

    June 17, 2009 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  24. Jackie

    I need Barney Franks to please do your job in congress. If you voted for Obama because you only had agenda because of your sexuality
    that was wrong. I understand everyone wants equal rights but I need a job and healthcare and that is the most important to me right now . I want the president to keep this nation safe, he has only be in office
    5 months and everyday all I here is he upsetting gays and he is making Democrats mad give me a break. I was laid off and Barney Franks that is your job in congress to help the president get us back
    to work.

    June 17, 2009 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  25. Voice uv reesun

    Our county is coming apart at the seams, and this is what you're squandering your time obsessing about, Mr. Frank? Maybe it's time you stepped down.

    June 17, 2009 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
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