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. WonderfulWanda

    The one thing this president does is explain himself well, Mr. Frank. Which means stop adding or inventing words into what he clearly explains.

    June 17, 2009 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  2. jean

    what if you awoke tomorrow to a world in which everybody has turned gay/lesbian, we would not reproduce, the human race would go extinct in about a hundred years, now do we still think being gay/lesbian is natural. if gays and lesbians feel to need to form an official bond, then sign a contract.,..........but leave marriage alone.

    June 17, 2009 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  3. Sean

    Barney Frank is the symbol of whats wrong with congress and the democratic party as a whole. Luckily the DNC has trended toward the more moderate Obama instead of hyper partisans like Barney Frank. I dont listen to anything the house of representitives says ever its full of clowns.

    June 17, 2009 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  4. Rich

    @ Steve (12:40 pm)

    Your many references lose to this one:

    – First Amendment to the United States Constitution (see specifically the Establishment Clause)

    June 17, 2009 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  5. Brennan

    Barney just shut-up! You have no room to talk! Last i checked we are in the mess we are in because of you and your partner...

    June 17, 2009 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  6. Francis

    This whole thing just blows my mind. The whole gay lifestyle is just not normal. You are not born gay. The "parts" were not meant to go together that way. Some factor in the environment one grows up in contributes to someone being gay.

    June 17, 2009 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  7. cynicalme

    It seems like the gay/lesbian community has two perfect spokesmen in Perez Hilton and Barney –they should be proud.

    June 17, 2009 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  8. Susan McDonald

    This article is Pro-Obama just like all the CNN articles. Obama is God to CNN.

    June 17, 2009 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  9. getready

    I wonder how open-minded in Barney is with polygamous marriages? Or is he just a self-serving bigot like most Democrats?

    June 17, 2009 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  10. AJ

    When is everyone going to get a clue? Obama is a hate filled bigot who despises gay people and will do nothing of significance to better their lives.

    June 17, 2009 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  11. RMcArthur

    Barney, Call him a hate monger! If it was a Conservative that did what Obama did you would be screaming bigot and hate monger. So, go ahead be intellectually honest... Call him a hate monger!

    June 17, 2009 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  12. Iowa Born

    Mr. Obama, you are playing with fire with one of your strongest constituencies..... (que republicans to take stand and earn a constituency)..... individual rights..... this is a big big mistake.

    June 17, 2009 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  13. ncgirl

    So we now have to pay for benefits for federal gay partners because Barney Franks got upset at Obama? Does nobody in this country know the meaning of only doing what you can afford to PAY FOR? Everyday there is some new something we can't afford being CHARGED to our Great-Grand kids accounts.

    June 17, 2009 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  14. Claudia in Houson

    Has anyone heard Dick Cheney speak in support or against Obama's Defense of Marriage Act, he won't. Cheney didn't speak for gays during his term because he's a low down coward but wants America to agree with him against Obama on defense. Just more proof Cheney is attempting to change his legacy by making arguments on the war mistakes he and Bush made. And where is Liz Cheney on this issue since she defends her father, why not defend her sister, cowards.

    June 17, 2009 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  15. getready

    to stacy:
    separation of church in state is not protected by the constitution. it is a precedent.

    June 17, 2009 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  16. Sam

    So by the logic of the gay and lesbian community, polygamy should be legal as well correct? If a man loves two women, the women love the man and all are able to support each other, why the hypocrisy?

    June 17, 2009 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  17. Chasman

    Barney Frank, please go back to saying how well Freddie and Fannie are doing and how they dont need more oversight. You suck. You were the man that oversaw this disaster as chairman of the committee in 2007-present and youre worrying about whether its called a marriage or a civil union? Im all for gay rights, but as far as I can tell a civil union is the same thing as a marriage but with a different title. You are a loser.

    June 17, 2009 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  18. daphne

    Why do people get upset with Barney Frank defending gay causes? Do they get upset with Keith Ellison for defending Muslim causes or with any number of Republicans for defending religious causes? Do they get upset with women Senators defending the interests of women or the black congressional caucus for defending African Americans? There is a bigoted double standard when Barney defends gays against bigotry by bigots.

    June 17, 2009 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  19. Perceptive

    More people have been killed in the name of God than for any other reason. That, that my friends, is true perversion.

    -Harvey Milk

    June 17, 2009 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  20. Marty, Grand Rapids Mi

    Gay's right to Marriage is inevitable. Give it some time, your day will come.

    June 17, 2009 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  21. Mike

    Marcus, that is the perfect response. I doubt that many of the people here bothered to read that decision. I also doubt that many of the people here would understand what it meant anyway. When someone brings logic to a discussion there are always those who will just yell their views louder in the belief that it will make their point stronger.

    I'm waiting and hoping that someday I will have the full legal rights to marry my partner and share the same benefits as others.

    June 17, 2009 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  22. kd

    the people spoke on slavery, too, and wanted to keep it. The people don't always agree with what the Constitution protects, which is why it's there and why we supposedly operate under its mandates.

    June 17, 2009 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  23. SM

    President Obama should stand behind his beliefs and ban gays to have the same entitlements as single and married couples.

    Those who are gay choose to be gay by choice. Blaming God for your sexual orientation is just another way of trying to justify this sin.

    June 17, 2009 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  24. Don

    Obama must allow gays to marry.

    This is the land of the free. A place where all have equal rights. To actively deny rights to some is despicable and Anti-American.

    And the last thing I want to hear are the words Bible, Jesus, and Christianity. These things have nothing to do with America or gay rights... they are just barriers set up by people who want everyone to think like them. We must do something about separation of church and state... these religious folks need to learn that they are not here to convert America.

    June 17, 2009 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  25. eb

    To CNN: Since you clearly have the DOJ brief, why not post it on your site? Since most of your readers can speak and read English why not give us the original document and not just your commentary?

    June 17, 2009 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
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