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. Rick

    LOL, the one clown says that Americans are socially liberal...hmm, then why has gay marriage been voted down EVERY TIME it's been on a ballot? I think it's like 17 states, OH for SEVENTEEN...really liberal, genius.

    June 17, 2009 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  2. russell

    to southerncousin , are you that stupid or racist to think that Obama is the cause of the colaspe of our financial system , you truely need to take a look at yourself , the president of Brazil stated " The economic was cause by blue eyed white people who thought they knew everything , because I don't know any black or miorities that is the head of any bank in the US .

    June 17, 2009 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  3. Jim

    Its a crime against mother nature!!! Think about it. Its my right not to accept it and if they want to put it to a national vote it would be defeated.

    June 17, 2009 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  4. james

    Why is everyone bashing people for speaking out about a clearly bigoted piece from the government that GLBT people pay taxes to just like everyone else? What if the gvt said that straight people are all incestual? Would you feel angry? If you say no, you're lying. You should all be offended that our gvt would issue statements like this. Get your head out of the sand and care about others' feelings for once.

    June 17, 2009 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  5. travis

    its ok that they do that people have there opoinions i guess there is no seperating of church and state here in the USA that is ok God has the finally say and i think he is saying someone got it wrong again lol let the bible thumpers have the usa seeming they almost caused a financil melt down of the USA must have been in the bible or God told them too do it make divorce illegal and i will stop making comments the bible says u can't divorce ( opps might cause a backlash its something that isn't right so we gonna ignore that ) people lets worry about more important stuff like getting rid of all of congress no matter what they seem too never get anything right but take are money

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

    Ttwo war's abroad, a global financial meltdown, healthcare spiraling out of control, add in neo-Nazi's and haters to contend with and Rep. Frank wants this new administration to primarily focus on the ability of gov't making it easy for men and women to marry one another.
    That's just Narcissism in it's purest form

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

    First, I never heard Obama state he was recognize gay marriage.

    That being said, why don't they? This is a basic civil right and as an African-American, I can sympathize. Our ancestors had to fight for basic civil rights as well.

    We need to stop allowing religion to run this country.

    June 17, 2009 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  8. Penguinn

    I just want to hear how he reconciles the DOJ position and his apparent offer of benefits to same-sex couples working for the federal government. It should be interesting.

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

    Barney Franks is a horrible man who ruined so many people with his greed. There does not need to be an amendment made to the Constitution to make his sexual CHOICE into law. There are still some moral people left in the US and we dont want Franks to make it possible for people to marry their poodle. Because if you let them push us into changing the law it will be a circus with all the freaks that will want to marry. Leave the marriage act alone! You got your civil unions so let it go.

    June 17, 2009 01:02 pm at 1:02 pm |
  10. Who are normal people?

    While I agree G and L's should be able to do a civil union type "marriage" I don't agree with a hetrosexual type marriage. The G and L's want us to look at them both ways (different and the same) as couples go. They want it all their way or no way at all.. WELL guess what !! It just doesn't work that way. We all are accepted into society on our social behavior so why can't they adjust to a civil union marriage and go on liviing their life? Why must society as a whole accept them because they are some how "different"? Why don't they try to live normal lives on a civil union marriage and maybe society would start accepting them as normal married people.

    June 17, 2009 01:02 pm at 1:02 pm |
  11. Scott

    Homosexuals also need to stop equating their struggle with those of slavery. No where near the same. When was the last time you heard of a black person "coming out of the closet" as a black person? Never. Because they are out of the "closet" as soon as they're born!!! They can't ever pretend to be anything other than black either. (Unless you're Michael Jackson, but he doesn't count.)

    Gays can act straight when it suites them. Blacks would love to act like something else when it suites them. (especially during job interviews or applying for loans, or driving through certain neighborhoods) But we can't. It doesn't equate.

    No matter how hard your life is as a gay person, I'll bet you still wouldn't trade places with a black person for a second!!! So quit it!

    June 17, 2009 01:02 pm at 1:02 pm |
  12. UNEDUCATED AMERICA

    lets keep bringing wedge issues into the place they do not belong- the federal gov't

    they have no authority to tell you how to live your life- that is if u understand the constitution....

    June 17, 2009 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  13. Just Sayin...

    Anyone who argues that we have more problems to fix than civil rights is so morally wrong it's sad. I don't care if your losing your job when gay people can't even live freely in our so called free state. The most important issue at hand is educating ignorant people which led us into the bush/cheney mess. That starts with same sex marriage and health care...

    June 17, 2009 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  14. sniffthese

    the house of cards are slipping as we speak.

    yes....Change is in the air pole smokers.

    June 17, 2009 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  15. donttreadonme

    Sniffit you fabricate more misinformation about the First Amendment then anyone I know. Is this to aid your agenda or are you just mistaken? All the First Amendment says regarding religion “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”

    Defense of marriage doesn’t have to be a religious battle it is a traditional fight. Marriage is an old custom established for a man and a woman to bond and create a family.

    June 17, 2009 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  16. Picture this

    Frank slams Obama...

    June 17, 2009 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  17. J.P.

    OH my God, I agree with Sniffit on something!
    Oh my God!

    Quick! Buy a lottery ticket!

    Hell must be expecting flurries today!

    (Also liked your comment about suing the government for $$$ when it "appropriates" folks' land. You don't seem to be so bad after all.)

    June 17, 2009 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  18. Esco

    I don't know how i feel about this, its kind of a catch 22 in my opinion. I think the President has the right idea though. It doesn't mean the gay community cannot live their lives everyday with their partners, they just cannot get married leagally in certain states. And according to the Bible, marrige should be man + woman, not the same sex. But to each his own, don't blame the President. Its in the bible...read it.

    June 17, 2009 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  19. al in memphis

    There is a difference between sexual orientation and sexual preference. It the same as the difference between personal private choices and public policy of acceptance.

    As Christians, we can accept your right and freedom to choose as you will. Why does this country have to spend so much energy beyond that simple point. Go back to looking at our high school drop out rate.

    June 17, 2009 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  20. RNC = DNC = politics as usual

    Obama campaigned as a Savior and a Liberal who would Change Everything! Cue screams and wild adoration.

    Now we see he is liberal-light, pro-corporation, pro-war, and cannot be pinned down on an actual opinion.

    The joke is on us.

    June 17, 2009 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  21. thies

    Keep your religion out of the lives of those who don't believe in it. At a point in time interracial marriages faced the same discrimination as homosexual marriage faces today. I hope we will overcome this injustice too one day.

    June 17, 2009 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  22. Fair is Fair

    @ Sniffit, who said "I spend my time suing the gov't for more money when it takes peoples' land."
    __________________________

    Well if this doesn't beat all. A lawyer... nay a FAR LEFT lawyer at that... with a redemming quality. The apocalypse must be near.

    June 17, 2009 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  23. Dirt

    I'm a strong advocate for calling the legal union between 2 people of the same gender something besides marriage. Just as we call a female a she/her and a man him/his, we can make similar gender distinctions for marriage. It's not a seperate but equal issue. I think many African Americans might disagree with gay advocates equating their struggle with the African American struggle in the USA.

    June 17, 2009 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  24. harry1

    Barney Fife is an idiot, liar, and should be railroaded out of DC. The only way this moron got elected was his large gay constituents. When will our government understand the #1 job is to protect the people! North Korea, Middle East, Financial meltdown, unemployment. Wake Up

    June 17, 2009 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  25. Steven

    To Neel T.

    God never has had anything to do with religion – that was people's idea to exclude other people. God is about a relationship. Actually, without that relationship, all the 'religious' people will be lumped together. Unfortunately, at present, that includes you.

    June 17, 2009 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
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