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. John

    Rep. Frank needs to get back to work and figure out why and how he let Fannie Mae get in such a mess UNDER HIS WATCH !!!

    And, now, after TARP, Fannie's headed right back in the same direction.

    Don't tell me that Rep. Frank couldn't have done anything. He, and other pol's spend years telling us how only they can get things done in Wash., DC. We voters sholdn't allow them to have it both ways

    June 17, 2009 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  2. Sniffit

    @ JT, who said "man + woman…..it's science."

    no discrimination....it's LAW.

    June 17, 2009 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  3. Ken in NY

    The federal government has not traditionally and universally been involved in the state issued marriage certificates UNTIL the right-wing, bible thumping, extemist got involved. These people that want MORE government interference and bigger goernement to oversee these new federal acts at what cost to taxpayers?

    June 17, 2009 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  4. vegage

    This shows that this country has a long way to go. I feel that Obama has betrayed the gay community. It is sad to see his actions are completely the opposite of his promises during the campaign.

    June 17, 2009 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  5. ARR

    FYI to James. A recent Gallup poll showed that only a minority of 20% identify themselves as "liberals" in America.

    June 17, 2009 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  6. KateN

    Russell, you ask ' ...how come gays can't be satified with a civil union, we are giving you rights with benefits , be satisfied with that..." Most states don't even give gay couples civil union rights and the "Defense of Marriage Act" prohibits the federal government from recognizing civil unions as equivalent to "marriage". Thus straight couples have more rights than gay couples.

    Heck, I could divorce my husband of 15 years and marry a guy I met in a bar the night before and I'd have more marital rights than my gay friends who have been in committed, monogamous relationships for over 15 years. Give gays the SAME rights as straights PERIOD!

    I don't care how you "feel" about same-sex marriage. I don't "feel" that Larry Kings' 6th marriage is on the same level as mine, but I'm not gonna try to deny their marital rights.

    June 17, 2009 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  7. Josh from Knoxville, TN

    Barney Frank is a disgusting excuse for a human being. Watching him stutter and spit on TV is worse than listening to fingernails being dragged across a chalkboard.

    June 17, 2009 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  8. Anodyne

    All men are created equal and are afforded the same rights under the constitution but the republicans are putting a huge sum of money into blocking gays from getting married so that they can be afforded all of the federal rights that married couples get including tax, death and social security benefits. Where are they for tax equality when gay couples are taxed 3% higher than married couples? Where their health benefits are considered taxable income while married couples are not. When if they die their social security does not go to their partner but back to the government and their property cannot simply be transferred to their partner, but they must pay estate tax! Where is the hard core right for TAX EQUALITY and CONSTITUTIONAL EQUALITY now?

    June 17, 2009 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  9. arc, Lugano CH

    Hate Gays June 17th, 2009 12:47 pm ET
    I'm sick of gays always crying about something. They make me sick.
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    That was not a very nice thing to say.

    May you one day need a surgical procedure and the surgeon who saves your life is gay. Then you will see the error of your ways.

    Until then you need to quell that anger. I suggest a laying of fatty foods, alcohol over-consumption and instead adopting an organic diet with plenty of greens combined with a rigorous yoga routine.

    June 17, 2009 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  10. Dave

    Frank is right. This is not just.

    June 17, 2009 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  11. Anjum

    JT, man + woman…..it's science.?

    It's also science that through genetic, familial, environmental, and social factors people ARE GAY. Some animals ARE GAY. It's a part of life, and gay people deserve that respect. The fact that 2 men or 2 women can't reproduce (thought they can raise a child who would end up a wonderful person) should be enough consolation for your narrow-minded self.

    June 17, 2009 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  12. Ryan in VA

    Wow, it IS true... the fanatical right CAN hate someone more than Obama! Too bad it's in the form of blanket bigotry!

    My secular (hetrosexual, mind you) MARRIAGE was not performed by the clergy, nor did it include a single mention of 'God.' ...yet it is still called a MARRIAGE and is 100% legal.

    Marriage was not invented by the Christian religion. It has been around a lot longer! So why do we let these pinheads control the meaning of the word?!?

    June 17, 2009 01:16 pm at 1:16 pm |
  13. Justin

    This is just rediculous! I have nothing against gays and lesbians; I served along side them in our great navy. I would die for my fellow gay/lesbian sailors as they would me. But, I do have a problem when they can't be satisfied with getting the benefits of a married couple and not the title. Marriage is for a man and a woman; as it has been for centuries! I would like someone to give me ONE good reason why they should have this title. And you can't say for rights because you are already getting the rights (AKA benefits).

    June 17, 2009 01:16 pm at 1:16 pm |
  14. Ken

    When Gay marriage is legalized, the society is going to be
    disintegrated. People have no shame.

    June 17, 2009 01:16 pm at 1:16 pm |
  15. Proud Member..Party of No

    Frank should be in prison but instead the idiotic dumbocrats keep re-electing him.

    June 17, 2009 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  16. TCM

    that's not all he's been slamming...you big savage, Barney!

    How could anyone vote for this idiot? Man, I thought we scraped the bottom of the barrel when Obama was handed the White House keys....

    Barney needs to go back in the closet and resume being a pivot man.

    June 17, 2009 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  17. Carlos

    Come on people. Those who defend "marriage" are defending a religious institution that is no longer relevant. We tend to violate this "divine contract" more often than not (I've been married four times). So chill out. Live and let live. Less hyprocrisy please.

    June 17, 2009 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  18. Cole-Boston

    Sadly, there are some pretty viral comments on this subject. It doesn't really surprise me because civility seems to have gone out the window when dealing with this subject......gays in the military, marriage, civil unions. We need to take a deep breath, & LISTEN. There are to many people denied living freely & equally, no matter what our religious affiliation we claim. Embrace each other & work this out.

    June 17, 2009 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  19. D. Tree

    Obama has always said he's against gay marriage, but for civil unions – he's just being consistent.

    Obama is not a liberal, people just need to understand that – he's a Centrist. He can't have a Culture War while he's trying to pass Healthcare reform – some things are more crucial at this very moment!

    Gay Rights is a Civil Rights issue, but no one should be surprised by Obama's position at this time.

    June 17, 2009 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  20. Rick W

    I love all these people, so called Americans trying to tell others how
    to live there lives.
    These so called preachers and people judging others when Jesus
    said Judge not less ye be judged..
    They worry about others when there own lives arn't even together.
    When Obama ran he said he would change the don't ask don't tell
    and other important gay issues but has been dragging his feet.
    When the mid terms come next year he'll find out what it means
    to keep campaign promises.
    I'm not even gay but I think if your a true Christian you should
    leave judging on certain issues up to God

    June 17, 2009 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  21. TCM

    @ Fair is Fair -

    excellent comment. The majority is tired of hearing little squeakers like Barney, the ACLU, ACORN, and the rest of the social deviants....2010 Congress is going to have colon blow, and the lib crap will be no more.

    June 17, 2009 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  22. Samir

    Obama has been a collossal disappointment on this issue.

    June 17, 2009 01:19 pm at 1:19 pm |
  23. No place for hate

    There is no place for bigotry in this country. If you don't believe in equal rights for ALL Americans, you may as well resign your own.

    June 17, 2009 01:19 pm at 1:19 pm |
  24. ObamaShrugged

    Why is everyone so suprised BHO cannot keep all of his campaign promises. He told all of you what you wanted to ehar, jsut to get your vote. He will now support policy just to get re-elected. He is no different from any other politician. He is the the "One". I wish he was, but we got fooled again!

    "Meet the new Boss, same as the old Boss" – P Townsend

    June 17, 2009 01:19 pm at 1:19 pm |
  25. Fed up

    If Obama does not make things right with the gay community before the next election, not only will I not vote for him but I will vote for his opponent. It is high time he stopped taking the gay community for granted.

    June 17, 2009 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
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