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. Uhuman too?

    What does God or the bible have to do with gays? China seems to be the best place for most of the comment's or wait maybe the middle east, my way or the highway! Guess what I learned, GOD made me and Divorce or several Wives (at the same time or after each Divorce)in some cultures are ok. With all these "Love thy Neighbor" types who speak on behalf of GOD, no wonder you do not hear him or her. Love has little to do with sex yet you seem to base your judgement on that. I bet your ignorance is indeed bliss. Love you anyway. Peace!

    June 17, 2009 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  2. Hawaii gal

    barney Frank is right, Obama flip-flopped on this issue. He ran on his support of gay rights, where are they now? I think Pres. Obama is doing a great job, but this is one issue in which I disagree with him. He needs to reverse Don't Ask Don't Tell, and the marriage bill as well. This is an issue of basic civil rights., and I say this as a married hetrosexual woman. Gay or not, they are still Americans and they deserve equal rights, period.

    June 17, 2009 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  3. Bob in Pa

    Barney,
    You have been partly to blame for this terrible financial crisis and yet you want to continually stick that nose in somewhere else.
    Please, don't go away mad, just go away !

    June 17, 2009 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  4. GI Joe

    Patricia – leave God out of your Bigotry and Hate.

    June 17, 2009 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  5. Chris

    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!!
    Marriage is about loving someone not if they are male or female.
    It is not about procreating life because we already have a bunch of folks having producing life and are not married, so that's a lie.

    June 17, 2009 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  6. ss

    .... it's only a matter of time, these young people, the new generation coming up, you think they waste their breath talking about such obvious choices.... OF COURSE Gays should be able to marry. If I can why not them. Sorry to all the religious folks but we don't live under the rule of one religious book ... Go to Iran if you think "God's Law" should rule. It's all these up-tight old people and that probably includes you that waste both time (as I'm doing now) and money on such issues. The young sometimes know so much more than we do....

    June 17, 2009 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  7. Al

    Why does the government at any level, local, state or federal have to have anything to do with marriage?! Marriage is a personal and/or religious issue. Separation of church and state in the US should dictate that it should leave marriage where it belongs–between people and/or their clergies, not something to be legislated. And for those who quote the Christian Bible, please keep it to yourselves. Look around, not everyone in the US is Christian. Respect others as you would like others to respect you.

    June 17, 2009 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  8. Chris

    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!!
    Marriage is about loving someone not if they are male or female.
    It is not about procreating life because we already have a bunch of folks having produced life and are not married, so that's a lie.

    June 17, 2009 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  9. Fordy in Jamaica

    Homosexuality is an obvious sin and even if homosexuals achieve the so called "equal rights" they are seeking, they still won't sleep soundly at night. Homosexuals know what they do is wrong and all of this push for equality is an attempt to somehow numb their consciences. Homosexuals what u do is a sin and you need to follow ur hearts and stop it...Please!!!

    June 17, 2009 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  10. Brian G, Sugar Land, TX

    The stupidity of this debate is part of the reason I am a unisexual.
    No legal or moral arguments, complications or justifications.
    Just me, myself and ayi, Ayi, AYi, AYIIIII !!!!

    June 17, 2009 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  11. James M. Holmes

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

    LOL! Some of you NeoCons really do live in a world of your own don't you? Keep dreaming... haha...

    I got news for you, most Americans are sick of the "NeoCon jesus freak" routine.... It was proven in Nov. 08!

    In fact most Americans are liberal in thier social issues...

    June 17, 2009 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  12. SHIRLEY SDL

    The President has never said that he would sanction gay marriage, which I don't either. Frank is just posturing for the gay and lesbian community, who have every right to live their lifestyles, but should not expect everyone to go alone with their choices. The President said he would do what he could to repeal DADT, and he will. I am more interested in him trying as hard as he can to fix some of the more important economic problems that we have after 8 years of Cheney/ Bush being ASLEEP AT THE WHEEL. The President will be fine, and I am sure he has many more supporters than those who are being so selfish as to think that their perceived, petty, problems should dominate our lives at this time when people are losing their jobs, lifesavings, and homes along with rising gas problems. Grow up people, 149 days is just not enough time to fix everything!

    June 17, 2009 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  13. JT

    forget religion..

    man + woman.....it's science.

    June 17, 2009 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  14. Majesty

    There are more important things to worry about besides these defectives people!

    June 17, 2009 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  15. News

    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 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  16. Nat, NYC

    I hope that President exactly meant what he said. I'm already sick of Obama's changing his mind on many issues.

    June 17, 2009 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  17. James M. Holmes

    Isn't it ironic that those who belive in fairy tales and an invisable man in the sky... seem to think that they have all the answers and want to judge everyone?

    Take you book of fairy tales and shove it!

    June 17, 2009 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  18. Hawaii gal

    Mike in MN – WELL SAID!!!!

    I couldn't agree more...separate but equal was unjust for African Americans in the 1960s, just as our current laws are for gay Americans today. This is an issue of civil rights, and they are American just like the rest of us, so they deserve the same rights as us. The government has no business telling any American who they can or cannot love or marry, we need a separation of church and state, just as our Constitution states we have.

    June 17, 2009 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
  19. russell

    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 , In California the people have spoken out against gay marriage , why should there be any other argument or referrndum on gay marrige , if we vote against it , it should be the end of the story and it 's not what most normal people inAmerica want , then why keep pushing something that we don't want down our throats , IT'S WRONG PERIOD , are we the only counrty pushing homosexuality to the for front to everthing else . Go to another country and try pushing gay marriage and let's see if you make it back to the states alive ,

    June 17, 2009 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
  20. Sniffit

    @ Fair is Fair, wh osaid "wouldn't you rather be ambulance chasing?"

    As a conservative, you'd actually probably be happy to know I spend my time suing the gov't for more money when it takes peoples' land. /wink

    June 17, 2009 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  21. Neel T

    Religions is ridiculous and has caused more damage than good.... has restricted rights, caused wars, restricted stem cell research, and breeds ignorance... in 100 years religious people will be a minority..

    June 17, 2009 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  22. panem et circenses

    Randi L. June 17th, 2009 12:17 pm ET

    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.

    ****

    Ummm, that's pretty much the same argument used to defend the decision to waterboard – like it or not, strictly speaking it was legal.

    Hypocrit much???

    June 17, 2009 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  23. ModerateLady

    When he was running for office he said clearly that he does not support gay marriage. Why ask again? Could things have changed already??

    June 17, 2009 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  24. Ha!

    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. A reporter reports, they look for information that the American people need to make an informed decision. You get pro and con on Fox. All you get is a love fest for Obama on the other stations and infomercials. The reporters on the other stations should really be ashamed of the job they are doing. I want facts. Where were they on Acorn, on Health care costs, on the unfair treatment of women?

    Shame on you NBC, CBS, CNN, MSNBC and ABC. Do what we as Americans need you to do. Investigate and report.
    -----------------------------–

    THIS IS FUNNY TO ME SINCE THIS PERSON IS PRETTY MUCH SAYING THAT ALL OTHER STATIONS SUCK BESIDES FOX, OH I WONDER WHY!!!!!!

    June 17, 2009 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  25. Sniffit

    @ russell, wh osaid "if we vote against it , it should be the end of the story "

    That's not why the Constitution exists. You couldn't be more wrong. Unless you want to admit that next time you find yourself in some sort of unpopular minority, the rest of us can vote to take all your rights away?

    June 17, 2009 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
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