June 17th, 2009
03:21 PM ET
6 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. Deb

    What me worry.....since digital I no longer can watch a Fox Station.
    Sounds like not much of a loss

    June 17, 2009 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  2. Deborah from KC/RN

    President Obama is just signing a bill giving spousal rights and benefits to same sex federal employees. This is a complicated matter legally and President Obama is a lawyer, as are you, Barney Frank. Unlike the previous administration, President Obama cares about reaching concensis, not imposing his will on others who disagree with him, and disagreeing respectfully. You all have made this a States's rights issue and the States seem to be slowly making the right moves for civil rights for all.

    June 17, 2009 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  3. Mr Foster

    Yes, Finnally. I'm so glad somebody in this administration took a stand aginst this absurd notion that gay marraige is natural and normal. I'm sure a brother could be in love with his sister too. That dosen't make it right or natural, nor does it give them the right to marry. It's actually a very good comparison

    June 17, 2009 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  4. Sniffit

    @ Patricia, who asked "where does the U.S. think they're stand with God right now?"

    Gimme a second to consult the First Amendment. Ah yes, here we are: God takes a back seat to our secular laws.

    Sorry...it's all there in writing...right from the get-go...ab initiio...from the founding of our coountry forward. If you'd like us to stop being the United States of America, just admit it. if not, then you're gonna have to accept it. Theocracy is UNAMERICAN. Chew on that.

    June 17, 2009 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  5. S.B. Stein E.B. NJ

    I think that anything done on this issue should be considered movement given all the other problems out there that the president has to deal with right now. With all that is going on, I would hope people don't find me disrepectful, but this can wait for a few months.

    June 17, 2009 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  6. RStewartIII

    For those who thought that there was a united front within the Democratic Party concerning same-sex marriage, this certainly should open their eyes that this is even a controversial issue there.

    Regardless of the Defense of Marriage Act that was brought up, the one thing that the Justice Department has right is the "full faith and credit" clause of the US Constitution, which is where the argument should lie. It is because of this clause that the interest in making a Constitutional Amendment to either allow or to ban same-sex marriage will probably end up happening.

    As for the 'don't ask, don't tell' policy of the US Military, my question is this...does it really matter? So far, it seems to have worked well, so why mess with it? The military should not be a forum for political issues, though it has been used so in the past.

    June 17, 2009 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  7. Carl Justus

    May I ask Barney Frank or any other homosexual what would the world look like in fifty years if all were homosexual.

    Where would the future generations be, how would there be a future generation if all were like Barney Frank, Lynn Cheney, and their partners???????

    June 17, 2009 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  8. Randi L.

    The Justice Department's job is to defend and enforce laws passed by Congress – not to decide whether it likes them or not. DOJ is only fulfilling its role here.

    June 17, 2009 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  9. Sniffit

    @ Dutch, wh osaid "Call it anything you want besides for marriage. Civil unions, domestic partnerships, etc."

    Sorry dude...you can't have it both ways. Either:

    A. "Marriage" is inherently religious terminology by nature and therefore has no place whatsoever in our laws OR

    B. No matter whether our laws say "marriage" or "civil union," NONE of it has religious connotations and the practical effect for both, no matter which term is used, is what you separate-but-equal advocates want to call a "civil union."

    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. Buyer beware: your attempts to insert religion into our laws will only open the door for the gov't to insert laws into your religion.

    June 17, 2009 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  10. Mississippi Mike

    Have you noticed that Obama is taking a lot of heat for his policy decisions lately? Bush always took heat because you couldn't tell if he was a liberal Republican or a blue-dog Democrat. Obama has such radical policies that even the fringes of the liberal establishment can't stomach his policies.

    I smell another conservative refolution brewing.

    June 17, 2009 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  11. Chris from Buffalo

    I'm surprised at how many people base their entire worldview on a book whose contents cannot be substantiated in the slightest degree. Given their beliefs, including people living inside whales, two of every species hoarded onto a small boat for 40 days, and resurrections from the dead – all events for which no evidence exists – it's difficult to understand how many Christians have any credibility whatsoever on any issue.

    June 17, 2009 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  12. sifto77

    Re: Obama's Aim at Fox News–what country is this–Russia? I am losing respect for a President who wants to shut out any criticism of him–someone needs to question this govt–thank god for FoxNews and their guts–the rest of the news stations are totally and completely afraid of him.

    June 17, 2009 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  13. jazz11

    Wow..... This must be a holiday in the hills of appalachia judging from the comments. Ignorance reigns.

    June 17, 2009 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  14. Aunt Mary

    Patricia, how dare you define Christianity for me? I'm sick of right-wing Christian extremists who act like they have a monopoly on what God thinks (and what God "hates"). You are trying to hijack the term "Christian" for your own sick bigoted views.

    I am a pro-choice, and I am a Christian. I am a lesbian, and I am a Christian. I don't believe in the literal interpretation of the Bible, and I am a Christian. I follow the teachings of Christ, and I am a Chrisitan.

    I see so many people who don't want to identify themselves as Christians because of the bad name people like you have given it. Well, honey, I AM A CHRISTIAN, and I will NOT deny my faith just because you are a nut!

    June 17, 2009 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  15. Michael

    Brian... you say ton June 17th, 2009 12:14 pm ET

    I believe the purpose of marriage is to procreate... if this is the case then I guess you say that those couples who can't or choose not to have children should not be recognized as being married and immediately disolved.

    June 17, 2009 12:27 pm at 12:27 pm |
  16. audacity of a dope

    There is the Pride of the Democratic and the cause of our financial mess..............Nice picture Bonnie Fwank

    June 17, 2009 12:28 pm at 12:28 pm |
  17. John in Austin

    Big mistake, indeed! This makes me sad. I never thought Obama would do that. What was he thinking?! I am waiting for an explanation too.

    June 17, 2009 12:28 pm at 12:28 pm |
  18. donttreadonme

    Obama is over the top liberal when it comes to Government and economic policies. But he is somewhat conservative socially. It will be interesting to see how far the left can pull him.

    Dems you need to realize that much of your base leans conservative on social issues.

    June 17, 2009 12:28 pm at 12:28 pm |
  19. Slider

    No, Frank.

    The big mistake was Democrats allowing you to be on both the appropriations committee and the banking committee when they gained power in 2006.

    But, as usual, your one big issue, despite the utter failure of both committees you chair, is your sexual preferences.

    God. Ya gotta love Democrats.

    June 17, 2009 12:28 pm at 12:28 pm |
  20. Don

    I have a right to oppose it, remember freedom of speech? You go do your thing Barney, but don't try and press the issue with me. I don't think it is right so keep your comments to yourself. As far as me paying for it, no way no how. You should be ashamed of yourselves.

    June 17, 2009 12:28 pm at 12:28 pm |
  21. marcus

    it's disappointing to see obama not have the courage to just scrap this stupid act.. the DOMA is as ridiculous as alabama's laws against interracial marriage were in the 1970s... it's time to grow up america.. time to move FORWARD... bans on gay marriage are archaic, discriminatory and embarassing.. read the Iowa Supreme Court's decision on anti-gay laws in their state.. it's a beautifully eloquent, logically flawless assessment of the ridiculousness of ANY anti-gay marriage law...

    June 17, 2009 12:28 pm at 12:28 pm |
  22. Frank

    America has a long way to go before we can truly call ourelves the "Land of the free". Accepting Homosexuals in our society is probably the next big step in that direction.

    To all the "Gay Bashers".......redeem yourselves for the hate you hold towards other human beings. Learn to love your brother and we will have a more civil and decent society here in America.

    God Bless you Mr. President. We know your heart is in the right place, even if you have not yet found the right pathway to correcting the civil rights injustice to our homosexual Brethen.

    Peace be with you all>

    June 17, 2009 12:29 pm at 12:29 pm |
  23. TRUTH

    people find another dem to replace frank

    June 17, 2009 12:29 pm at 12:29 pm |
  24. Don

    Hey Flo, and all you other high and mighty bible thumpers who pretend to be Christian for convenience, yet spew your hate on boards like this....hardly a Christian behavior. You people seem to mix up the Bible with the Constitution. Two separate documents. You may have your Christian views and dislike gay behavior, but the Constitution (not a religious document) affords the same freedoms to everyone. Marriage by itself is not solely a religious event. If it were, there would be no reason to pay a municipal license fee and obtain blood tests. And, for those who seem to so freely hate...I bet you gladly use the tax money a provide for your children to attend school, for your social security, etc. If I must pay for you, I should have the same rights as you.

    June 17, 2009 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  25. Get Over it!

    The problem is with the LGBT's reasoning for why gay marriage should be legal. Every time something like this comes up, they say "I can't help who I fall in love with" or something like that. That reasoning right there is severely flawed. Anyone can apply that reasoning to any type of person/animal/object. A pedophile can say that he can't help that he loves children, and could be psychologically correct. Sure, people cannot help the way that their mind works, but that doesn't make their resulting actions right. Get a better argument for why gay marriage should be legal, and that would stop these comparisons to pedophilia/incest/beastiality.

    June 17, 2009 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
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