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. Many Things

    Barney is just playing politics. Change the law, don't beat up the people for enforcing the law.

    June 17, 2009 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  2. Just My Opinion in Texas

    Here's a novel concept ... How about the Feds staying OUT of this?

    Seriously folks ... this is an issue that should be decided at the state level by the voters of that state.

    How hard is that?

    As for the DOJ brief ... I wouldn't touch that thing with a 20 ft pole wearing insulated gloves!

    I may be a hockey fan but even I haven't taken THAT many pucks to the head!

    June 17, 2009 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  3. Brad W.

    At least all the sanctimonious Democrats can now have clear vision that Obama will sell his first born down the river for a few votes and a carton of Marlboro reds... but they'll spin it some other way. Say what you want about Frank, at least he has some actual beliefs instead of just seeing which way the wind blows.

    June 17, 2009 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  4. Idiot_Pelosi

    Barney Frank is a JOKE.

    This idiot, similar to Pelosi, is an abosolute embarassment to the USA.

    June 17, 2009 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  5. mw

    Don't be going against your word and promises, Barack. Don't waffle. Don't act like a stuff shirt repug.

    June 17, 2009 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  6. matt

    I know some white folks who hate white folks but I think they should have some states that except gay marriage and some that do not then those who want to get marriage and are gay and can go live a happy life that way everybody is happy and theres no fighting theres enough of that going on in the world today

    June 17, 2009 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  7. Nev

    It WAS inappropriate. Comparing homosexuality to incest is not acceptable. If it really was Mr. Obama's policy behind this brief, he may lose my support.

    June 17, 2009 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  8. Matt

    June 17th, 2009 12:57 pm ET
    "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 "

    Russell,

    Are you married? If so, would you be willing to legally divorce your spouse and then refile under a civil union or domestic partnership in your state of residence? Ask yourself that question and you'll see why that's not acceptable to many of us.

    June 17, 2009 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  9. Ron

    It looks to me like we have a homophobic president. I have written him to tell him how disappointed I am in him. Does he care? I doubt it. We should have elected Hillary.

    June 17, 2009 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  10. yes we can

    my great uncle was gay and he vote for Bush because he was against gay married he was believe gays they should stay in clothed, he was undercover

    June 17, 2009 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |
  11. Jeremy

    Never thought I'd say this... way to go Obama. These select few can whine and gripe all they want. Been the same situation for THOUSANDS of years. Who are we to change it. Go away Barney, you sounds like a 7 year old. Who votes this dolt in year after year?!

    June 17, 2009 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |
  12. gl, From Pittsburgh

    I am so tried of hearing about guys. Obama said a marriage is between a man and a woman so what part don't you gays nuts understand. Please stop shoving your guys rights down my throat. You choiced to be gay not me so why do I have to keep pointing your gay promblem. As a black person, I didn't have a chose to come to American so that is the different. My civil rights were infrige on me, but your was by choice. So please stop all this noise about your civil rights.

    June 17, 2009 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  13. eddie123

    Justice Dept is to uphold the law, not make the law. Ms Sotomayor wants to make the laws not uphold the law and that is why Obama wants her in the supreme court. Obama's choices of the nine persons as top persons over the congress and not the choice of the people. This makes him close to being a dictator. Per Obamas affrimative action is only for people the same hue of skin as them. and same religon back ground as them. See what is happening to the U.S.

    June 17, 2009 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  14. Joel

    Come on CNN!! What the word 'BLASTS' means? It looks like you are intentionaly intensifying politicians' words in order to have people fighting against other people. Stop doing that!. Thx

    June 17, 2009 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  15. johnrj08

    Barney Frank has made a mistake. Presumably, being a liberal democrat, he supports most of Obama's ideas for getting the economy back on track and reforming health care in this country. By putting political pressure on Obama to take a stand on this fringe issue, he is enabling Republican attempts to derail everything that the President wants to do. Same-sex marriage is only an issue to those people whom it directly effects, which is a relatively small percentage of the country. The bigger issues, such as the recession and health care costs, effect every single American, be they single, married, gay or straight. Frank needs to get his priorities straight– no pun intended.

    June 17, 2009 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  16. End of the world

    The world is really coming to an end.No values,morals or common sense.Gay fighting to get married.The economy is ruins..thanks to Cheney/Bush..Isn't that more important than all of these whining.This really the end time.May the Lord forgive us all.

    June 17, 2009 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  17. Bill

    The people have spoken and they should be overruled. This is a matter of individual liberty to be protected from the tyranny of the majority. A marriage between any two consenting adults is legitimate, regardless of whether it is a traditional and universally recognized form of marriage.

    Good for Barney Frank.

    June 17, 2009 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  18. Steve (the real one)

    Sniffit June 17th, 2009 12:14 pm ET

    @ Patricia, who asked "where does the U.S. think they're stand with God right now?"Gimme a second to consult the First Amendment. Ah yes, here we are: God takes a back seat to our secular laws
    -------------------
    So Sniffit, in your words God take a back seat? Are you seriously wondering why we are in the mess we are in? American Christians are Christians first but we are also American, just like you. You don't want Christians forcing their beliefs down your throat right? We don't want your 'gay marriage" beliefs forced down ours! The is a law higher than the constitution, it just happens to be the law of God!

    June 17, 2009 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  19. bobolee

    I believe marriage is between a man and woman for the purpose of pro-creation. Can someone tell me from a gay marriage perspective, what do children of gay marriage tell them when they ask where do babies come from and how.

    I know of a lesbian couple trying to have children through IVF and not having any luck, isn't that saying something. When a hetereosexual couple cannot conceive due to a number of reason that is different when two women cannot conceive is because that isn't the way or how life is to begin.

    June 17, 2009 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  20. justsane

    i believe that the wording that compares same-sex (though it would be more appropriate to call in 'same-gender') marriage to incest was clumsy, and poorly chosen. mr. frank understands that the govt. must uphold current law, even if the president is working to change the law.

    June 17, 2009 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  21. Bubba

    The DOJ thing is pretty strange, and will probably get modified, but all I can say is how nice it is that Dems aren't all on the same page, parroting the same opinions, baaing like conservatives. Maybe we'll get something done finally .. .

    June 17, 2009 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  22. Ron In California

    I am neither a Neocon or Jesus Freak...and I don't give a rip about gay marriage. I think it kind of ironic that those who claim to be so tolerent...the Gay community ....are anything but. As long as they continue to behave the way they do, irrational hate of anyone who has a differing point of view. I will continue to oppose gay marriage.

    I do think it is sad that guys like Barney Frank find their way into positions of power they don't deserve. Frank is not competent to be in the position he holds. Look at his track record both personal and political. Sad.

    June 17, 2009 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  23. John

    Forget the Bible verses, forget the morality of whether gay marriage is right or wrong. look at it as a group of people wanting something --money, that's what it really comes down to. Make gay marriage legal and then they get the social security benefits as well as health benefits as well as inheritance benefits. It's the benefits they are after as well as a way to parade their lack of morality and their dirty lifestyle in front of the rest of the world

    June 17, 2009 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  24. Kevin Flynn

    Finally the Obama administration gets something right!
    Marriage between one man and one woman has been the accepted form and is really the only form of a true marriage. All others are just a denigration of the state of marriage.
    -Kevin

    June 17, 2009 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  25. Shannon

    It is so ironic to hear liberals chastise conversatives for being intolerant and full of hate, yet so many of the liberal comments on this post do nothing but spew hate. I agree with a few of the more rational comments that have pointed out that: 1. Every time it comes to a vote, the voters CHOOSE (thought you libs were all about choice!) to define marriage as between one man and one woman; and 2. Your precious Obama ran on the platform that marriage should remain between one man and one woman... You people need to stop your bellyaching and your hate mongering and accept the will of the people... period!

    June 17, 2009 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
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