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One of the trickier political balancing acts for socially moderate Republicans is how to respond to the increasingly rightward tilt of the national GOP. A case in point: this week's endorsement of Mitt Romney for president by the Log Cabin Republicans.
The gay conservative group said it supports Romney because of the "gravity of the economic and national security issues currently at stake." And it expressed hope that Romney would eventually support gay marriage and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which he currently opposes.
Massachusetts U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, an openly gay Democrat who's retiring after this term, condemned the endorsement, saying it works against the interests of gay and lesbian rights.
Anthony Brooks: So the Log Cabin Republicans are arguing that, if LGBT issues are a voter's highest and only priority, then Romney would not be that voter's choice. But they're suggesting cutting spending, job creation, things like that are bigger priorities — and that they’re Americans first. What’s wrong with that argument?
Barney Frank: First, the suggestion that those of us who give a higher priority to LGBT rights than they do are not Americans, that’s offensive rhetoric that shouldn't have been there. Secondly, no I appreciate that argument, I think it's intellectually honest.
It should be noted: It is a concession by the Log Cabin Republicans. They have formed themselves as a gay organization. Their previous argument was voting the way they recommended was a good way to advance LGBT rights. They are now, in effect, conceding that’s not true. Now, I've said all along, if you are someone who thinks that LGBT rights are not as important as lower tax rates for wealthy people or more military spending or you think we've overregulated the financial industry then you ought to vote that way. So, I have no quarrel with them saying, "Look, we implicitly conceive that the Democrats are much better at LGBT issues. They just aren't that important to us."
The one other thing, though, that seemed a little bizarre was when they added in that statement that they believed Romney would advance LGBT rights compared to previous Republican presidents. I've heard about setting the bar low but that’s digging a big hole for the bar and burying it in concrete.
It seems like one of the things they are saying about Romney is they are considering his record as governor of Massachusetts and they say that persuades them that he would not waste his precious time in office with attacks on LGBT Americans.
That’s dead wrong on two counts. First of all, given the changeability of Mr. Romney — you know if he was subject to the rules of selling a product, he would have to put an expiration date in every one of his positions: they’re only good to a certain time and they expire. But even there, if you look at his record as the governor of Massachusetts, it was very anti-LGBT.
In 2003 our Massachusetts Supreme Court found in favor of same-sex marriage. In the 2004 election, Romney got unusually involved for a governor in legislative electorates, specifically to try to defeat people who were not voting against same-sex marriage. He also then boasted that he was going to stop people from coming from other states to Massachusetts and he, during his primary campaign said, "I kept Massachusetts from being the Las Vegas of same-sex marriage" — a very offensive comparison of the marriages of the people who are in love with the kind of game show stuff that goes on in Las Vegas.
When he was governor, Romney also said — and one could argue that he has since shifted his position — that he supported full rights and full equality for all Americans.
In the first place, he clearly didn't mean that because he took the lead against marriage, so you could say he was for some rights. But how could [he have supported] full rights and full equality if you are leading a crusade against same-sex marriage? Is that not a right?
Secondly I took him to maybe be serious about that. And during the period of his governorship, I wrote to him (because I was the main sponsor in the U.S. House of Representatives) on legislation to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and employment. We already had such a law in Massachusetts before he became governor, and he wouldn't support it.
Log Cabin Republican seems to be saying that it is better to fight for some of these issues from within the Republican Party, from within a Romney administration, than from the outside. As they say, "If LGBT Americans are serious about winning equality for all, Republicans must be a part of that team." Now, I understand that you — as a Democrat — disagree with most Republican positions. But as a political strategy, aren't they correct about that?
"The problem with the Log Cabin’s approach is that they reward the Republicans as long as they continue to be anti-LGBT... You don’t change behavior by rewarding it."Rep. Barney Frank
No, they’re historically quite wrong; they have been doing this for over 20 years. Things have gotten worse. I agree that it would be a good thing if there were people who said to the Republican Party, "Look, we care a lot about LGBT rights, and we agree with you that wealthy people shouldn't pay that many taxes, we should have more military spending, etc. And if you are OK on our issues we’ll actively support you."
So, no they are not successful. The Republican Party has gotten worse; they have endorsed Republican candidates this very year — four or five of them got a zero on the voting record of the human rights campaign, on LGBT issues. So, yes, I think it’s a good thing to try, but you don’t change behavior by rewarding it.
Congressman, one of the points they're making is that the country has made so much progress — that, in a way, the horses are already out of the barn. The majority of Americans support gay marriage; a number of states have already passed it. It almost sounds like they're saying we are going to continue to make this progress whether or not we have a president who is paying lip service to the Defense of the Marriage Act, for example.
First of all, Barack Obama is of course paying much more than lip service. His position on the lawsuit is very important, particularly his position with regard to the Defense of Marriage Act on our suit in Massachusetts and elsewhere to make it unconstitutional and saying that you have to have a higher standard to justify discrimination against it.
The final point is this — and here is part of my problem with them — they tend to be wealthy men, men who probably live mostly in states where we are fairly well protected, where their partners have health insurance. There are millions of LGBT people in this country who live in states where that’s not the case. Even in states that have denied same-sex marriage, there are people who are not wealthy, who don’t have health benefits. There are people who are love and would like to marry people who are not American citizens, but they don’t have the same right to live with the people they love. So that argument that we are making progress, therefore it's OK to be for the people who are retarding that progress is just outrageous; it's not moral.
My life is pretty good. Jim and I are married. In fact, I don't need the federal benefits; we'll get them from the private sector. But I remember when I was 15. I know what it was like to be terrified. I've known people from other states in this country that don’t have those rights. I have friends in Massachusetts who aren't as well off as Jim and I are in that sense and who don’t have health care for the other partner. How dare they say, "Look, things are getting better, so ignore the fact we're not helping"?
This segment aired on October 26, 2012.
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