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. Alex

    Something wrong in the USA today if Cheney is more to the left on this issue than Obama.

    June 17, 2009 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  2. loki

    lets be honest here, state rights should decide wether or not there should be civil union between same sex partners, people need to stop defining themselves soley on their sexuality though, to say they dont have marriage rights is perposterous, every one has the right to marry a boy has the right to marry a girl and a girl has the right to marry a boy regardless of their sexuality, its a government institution in the end and people need to get over their inability to control it, live your life the way you see fit according to your values because in the end your life is not validated by other peoples views and regulations but based soley on how happy you are with it.

    June 17, 2009 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  3. once upon a horse

    as far as I'm concerned marriage between two people is their own business and goverment needs to poke it's nose OUT! That's what I mean by smaller goverment.

    June 17, 2009 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  4. Sniffit

    "Reading your posts, I betcha God takes a back seat on a great many things in your life. "

    What does that even mean? The rule of law is the rule of law. When it comes to the keystone document upon which our nation was built, we trash that at our own peril. What's truly bothersome about this is that most people don't seem to be realizing that the arguments opposing same-sex marriage here would open the door for their own persecution if allowed to stand. You would think that after November 4, 2008, the GOP and conservatives would recognize that it's entirely possible (and in fact happened) that one can go from power in the majority to an unpopular minority.

    June 17, 2009 01:22 pm at 1:22 pm |
  5. jdubs1211

    It is clear that he is opposed to gay marriage. This isn't the issue. The issue is the wording of the brief. Relating gay unions to incest and unions where one party is underage is the isuue! That is NOT EXACTLY being a strong proponent of gay and lesbian rights that he DID claim to be.

    June 17, 2009 01:22 pm at 1:22 pm |
  6. MikeH

    I agree with the point of view that the people who actually penned the DOJ Brief are Bushie fanatics who haven't been expunged yet. Obama wouldn't permit such wording if he had advance knowledge.

    Bush saturated the DOJ with his fanatical operatives, be patient, it will take a while to cleanse the department of the Right-Wing Republican stench.

    June 17, 2009 01:22 pm at 1:22 pm |
  7. RMD

    This whole issue is about the destruction of this country and all it stands for. If you can destroy the family unit then all is lost. The Homosexual movement is another step in the wrong direction. When our moral and values are gone so are we. Like it or not

    June 17, 2009 01:22 pm at 1:22 pm |
  8. tim

    The state governments should not be issuing marriage licenses in the first place. They should be issuing civil union certificates. The churches are the ones who should make some kind of paper and ceremony for marriage because "marriage" (OPEN YOUR DICTIONARY) is for a man and a woman. I can't marry a tree or a lake or an armadillo for pete's sake.
    bluecub

    June 17, 2009 01:22 pm at 1:22 pm |
  9. lf

    Mr. Franks–get on with more important viable subjects. Gay rights is but one issue–not the main reason for existence of Congress and the US Government. The list is endless–so please get on to the big business of why you're in WASH,DC, and elected by your constituents of Massachusetts.

    If you want to grandstand on Gay issues, why not seek Mr.Obama out privately and share your thoughts on the matter. Back to Business of the Nation please with all deliberate speed! Thank you!!

    June 17, 2009 01:22 pm at 1:22 pm |
  10. RGB in MN

    Barney, go away! You broke the literal bank system, and the mortgage system. Looking for a new system that runs well, and needs a problem?
    Pls vote him out!

    June 17, 2009 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  11. GWB2012

    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
    ****************
    You couldn't be more DEAD WRONG. Most Americans – especially Hispanics and African-Americans are extremely religious and DO NOT AT ALL hold the same views as liberals like you, you MORON. They vote democrat because of economic issues only. Feel free to conduct a poll. The majority of Americans believe in the sanctity of marriage. You are very sadly mistaken.

    June 17, 2009 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  12. Dawn in Pa

    @Fair is fair, you do not like attorney's? I know a few, in my family....

    @Hate Gays, you are homophopic, I thinke gays are the best, they are alot better than hetersexual people.. and they have a great sense of humor....

    You guys are really funny, showing your true colors, gay bashing, and hating them like they are subhuman...

    Go adopt a Gay or Lesbian and see they are real people tooo!!!!

    June 17, 2009 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  13. Harry P

    In the beginning it was Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve!!!!!

    June 17, 2009 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  14. JDFrakes

    CNN, The verb "SLAMS" is a little melodramatic given Mr. Frank's quotes, wouldn't you agree. Leave the hysteria to British tabloids please.

    June 17, 2009 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  15. Matt

    I support gay marriage and I still think Frank is an obnoxious clown.

    June 17, 2009 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  16. Enough Already!!!!

    @sifto77 June 17th, 2009 12:22 pm ET
    You losing respect For President Obama....You never had any respect
    for him ......Fox news namely Sean Hannity bash the President everyday with a racist tone
    @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. Fox try to make right anything that Trash Sara Palin says.....John King of CNN is the Sean of CNN regarding President Obama .......in the begining it was Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve

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

    Obama's position is preciesely why I would not contribute to his campaign – he continues to hold typical African-American bible beater bigoted views and strongly advocates in separate and unequal. As to gay rights, BO and GWB hold essentially the exact same views. Even Cheney (gasp) is more tolerant of gays than BO.

    I feel sorry for Sasha and Malia growing up in a household where the Obama's promote intolerance and inequality towards a specific minority.

    Remember, god hates shrimp and eagles too.

    June 17, 2009 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
  18. james

    Who really cares, there are many more important issues to tackle

    June 17, 2009 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  19. AJ in MA

    The only mistake I see is that Barney Frank is still head of the financial committee.

    June 17, 2009 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  20. rasabu

    I was a non-believer in then presidential candidate Obama on the rights of LGBTQ people and told my friends such time and time again. They would not believe me. "Oh," they said, " he will do much more than Hillary for us. Well, were is the bacon?

    June 17, 2009 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
  21. SYD

    Why does Barney Frank keep getting elected? Can't the state of Massachusetts find a better representative? He refuses to take any responsibility on the housing crisis and wastes tax payer time by whining about this crap.

    June 17, 2009 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
  22. chris (hartford, ct)

    A large part of the problem is that people don't seem to understand that civil unions do not carry the same rights/privileges as civil marriage. Gay folks aren't looking to invade churches and temples and force priests, imams, and rabbis to marry them. They just want their marriage to have the same rights, such as shared insurance/benefits, and the ability to visit their spouse in the hospital. Religions don't convey those rights and privileges, the government does, and the government shouldn't view gay marriage any differently than it does atheist marriage.

    June 17, 2009 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
  23. RMD

    By the way, seperation of church and state is no in the constitution.
    who started thet CRAP!!!

    June 17, 2009 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
  24. CJR

    I do NOT want my tax dollars supporting deviant behaviors. I strongly oppose the efforts by a very vocal minority attempting to rationalize such deviant behavior as normal. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO FORCE YOUR UNNATURAL PREFERENCES AS AN ACCEPTABLE, NORMAL, LIFESTYLE!!!!!

    June 17, 2009 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
  25. tb

    to fordy

    i sleep very well at night.
    we are not pushing a way of life on people.
    keep spewing your hate.
    you must get a life PLEASE

    June 17, 2009 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
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