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. Ren from Baltimore

    Barney,

    You don't bug us now about Defense of Marriage, and we won't bug you about the financial system's failure.

    Now is not the time to distract our President, which ever side you are on.

    June 17, 2009 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  2. jean

    Its great that we now find out Barney Frank can read since he certainly wasn't reading during the financial crisis when he was responsible for overseeing Fannie Mae et al.

    June 17, 2009 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  3. Stacey

    Whatever happened to SEPERATION OF CHURCH AND STATE??

    June 17, 2009 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  4. Nut Jobs

    President Obama has made his position clear since the primaries. He believes as the MAJORITY of AMERICANS do that MARRIAGE is between a MAN and a WOMAN. And guess what? He was elected. Well go figure. What rights are gay americans being denied? Personally I don't go around announcing that I'm heterosexual. Who cares? If you're gay, you're gay. You know the law. If you want it different, go where it's legal to marry. And stop comparing this issue to being black and CIvil RIghts. It is not a sin to be black. We've got two wars going on and looks like the potential for two more, and this is what is in the headlines? Puleeze. Give it a rest already. It will never happen. :)

    June 17, 2009 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  5. worriedmom

    If Obama is gonna give benefits for one group, give for all. Give for people living together, people living with mulltiple partners. Barney Frank you are a joke!!! I thought it was hilarious on MSNBC when you got upset when someone actually questioned you. boo hoo!

    Also Obama needs to get over someone criticizing him. I like watching Fox news but I also like Morning Joe (MSNBC). They at least can have intelligent debates!! How dare we criticize your Chosen One!
    Watch out there will be a Television CZAR next!!

    June 17, 2009 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  6. S Callahan

    There always seems to be some confusion for those who want to propagate their own agendas..Somewhere a boundary has to be dreawn....from my view .your sexuality is your buisness not the Governments..yet as much as one wants to deny this country was founded on faith principles a review of the constitution would show you otherwise.....with that said...Barney Frank should not be in office unless he fully understands this.
    Despite our differences God commands us to love our neighbors...which is each person in your path..that doesn't mean agree with the sins they committ against God (and we all have)...it means simply to love that person whom God created and loves. (see Luke 10)

    June 17, 2009 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  7. skyhawkdriver

    There goes the mortgage queen barney fudd frank again..trying to show us that the dimwitocrats are a party of one subject..I would of thought by now that he and his buddy chris dudd dodd would be in jail for destroying the banking industry

    June 17, 2009 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  8. Anonymous

    much more pressing theings to worry about

    June 17, 2009 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  9. jen

    Looks like Obama wanted gay money, gay support and then stick the knife in the gay community. He is just another politician who figured out how to get elected. The gay community is the only group left that you can openly trash and it looks like it is going to stay that way. If you are gay or support gays, then don't give any money to this administration. Find out who is and stop giving them money also. We need to fight back, gays have no civil rights and aren't allow the same freedoms as other Americans. STOP GIVING OUT MONEY !!! We can cause some harm back their way.

    June 17, 2009 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  10. mark

    why does a group of ABNORMAL individuals feel they are intitled? marriage is a pact with GOD. Homosexuality is a afront to GOD. I think they (gays) should have survivorship/spousal benefits/rights...just don't call it marriage.

    June 17, 2009 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  11. J.P.

    I'm as conservative as can be, but this is just ridiculous.

    Marriage is a religious construct. Civil Unions are a state construct for legal purposes. The states should recognize any and all unions as they would any other legally-binding contract.

    If people choose to be married in the church, great. Good for you. But you still should have to get a "union" license, not a marriage license, if you expect the state to legally recognize your union/contract, for all legal purposes, wills, end-of-life care, next of kin issues, etc etc etc.

    Besides, this entire issue is simply a political wedge, a political football if you will, that has been used to divide voters along some stupid line.

    I can't believe *I* of all people am siding with Barney Frank on this one, but so be it. Maybe I'm just more libertarian than I thought.

    June 17, 2009 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  12. Andrew, Buffalo NY

    This again shows how stupid the voters of MASS are! Why do you keep electing this fool?? Hasn't he damaged this country enough?

    June 17, 2009 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  13. Change does not come overnight.

    One word: PATIENCE.

    June 17, 2009 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  14. Fair is Fair

    Hey Barney Frank...

    Take a break from yourself for 1 minute. The go look at that wall. See the writing on it? Read the writing on the wall, Barney. The people of MA have FINALLY come to their senses. Novermber, 2010 will have you looking for another line of work. Maybe an alyst position on MSNBC?

    Signed,

    A Fed-Up MA Voter (in your district)

    June 17, 2009 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  15. Mike in MN

    Separate but equal doesn't work and it's still discrimination. It didn't work for African Americans, why should we expect it to work for homosexuals? I am a christian but I do not feel that it is the governments right to dictate who can and cannot get married. Just get it over with, allow for same sex marriages and then allow churches to make their own decision of if they want to preform the ceremonies or not. People who discriminate are bigoted fools who are disgusting, not homosexuals that just want to be with the person they love and have the rights they should be entitled to.

    June 17, 2009 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  16. Steve

    Leviticus 18:22-24
    Leviticus 20:13
    Romans 1:24-27
    I Corinthians 6:9-11
    I Timothy 1:8-11
    Jude 1:5-7

    God bless America

    June 17, 2009 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  17. Kevin (MA)

    You all forget that Barney Frank is from Massachusetts, where Marriage is not a "one man/one woman" issue. We've had gay marriage for 5 years, and haven't seen the ill effects yet. Actually, its gone so well, that almost all of our neighboring states have also legalized gay marriage. And now New York and New Jersey are probably next. DOMA will be overturned by the Supreme Court in the next year, and Obama won't even have to discuss it. Of course he pandered to the idiot majority on the gay marriage issue. The writing was on the wall, and he knew it. The Justice Dept. brief was unfortunate, but will probably disappear by next week, especially in light of the equal protection/rights given by today's signing. Gay marriage will be legal everywhere inside of 10 years...and no one will even notice 2 years after that.

    June 17, 2009 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  18. Filip

    Ughh! I am getting so sick of hearing people call homosexuals "perverts" and un natural!!! You simple minded bible thumpers need to understand that #1 There is a seperation between church and state in our constitution and #2 Homosexuals are born this way in "your" God's image. I certainly would never choose to be gay, but I was born this way as well. Oh, BTW, I came from a very loving and supportive family and a positive social up bringing, so don't even try to go there!!

    June 17, 2009 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  19. Mark,B'ham,Al.

    Don't Ask, Don't Tell still violates the UCMJ's Carnal Knowledge regulations as homosexuality is clasified as Carnal Knowledge (Immoral). You will have to get Congress to change the UCMJ first! Obama ran on the same policy as the former Miss California stated. The Defense of Marriage Act is to protect states whose moral standards are high enough to not coincied with the more liberal states anything goes standards. We need to settle this in the legislative branch but Congress knows they will not get re-elected and they do not have the spine to make the hard decisions.

    June 17, 2009 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  20. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA

    @ Sniffit

    This is such a sensative issue because it deals with equality. I don't see how we can discriminate against this group because of their sexual orientation. You being the lawyer, tell me how homosexuals can be treated fairly in this situation.

    June 17, 2009 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  21. DJ

    Aren't there more important issues to debate other than gay marriage? Let the states decide. Enough said.

    June 17, 2009 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  22. Fair is Fair

    @ Sniffit, who said:
    "Now, raise your hand if you're a GOPer and your eyes just popped out of your head that I'm agreeing with criticism of Obama haha"
    _______________________

    Attorney Sniffit Sniffit, Esq. – wouldn't you rather be ambulance chasing? You may be a far-left ideologue, but everyone can see the trial lawyer blood that runs through you.

    June 17, 2009 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  23. Patrick

    Interesting how CNN and Mixner negleted to mention who was responsible for both the Defense Of Marriage Act and the "Don't Ask – Don't Tell" gays in the military policy. They were both passed in the CLINTON Administration BY the Clinton Adiministration – not by some right-wing Republicans. This proves my long standing belief that liberalism may be responsible for selective short-term memory loss.

    June 17, 2009 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  24. JonDie

    We need a national "civil union" law that allows any two people for any reason to form a legal relationship.

    June 17, 2009 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  25. Jaime

    I don't know all the legal ramifications of equating incest with same sex marriage except to say that both are an abomination to the Lord.

    June 17, 2009 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
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