White House Press Secretary Jay Carney declined to directly respond Monday to a recent media report revealing that $2.2 million in federal money that had gone to an Iowa group aided in its efforts to undo marriage equality in the state.
In response to a question from the Washington Blade, Carney said he was unaware of the Associated Press report about the issue and declined to say whether the Obama administration has a problem with federal resources being used for that purpose.
“I wasn’t aware of that,” Carney said. “I’ll have to take that question.”
Carney also demurred when asked about the idea of President Obama issuing an executive order that would bar the use of federal funds for discriminatory efforts against LGBT Americans as a means to address the issue.
“I don’t have any — I mean, you’re asking a hypothetical about an executive order that doesn’t exist,” Carney said.
MORE IN THE BLADE: DEMOCRATIC WIN PRESERVES MARRIAGE RIGHTS IN IOWA
Last week, AP reported that $2.2 million in a federal grant received by the group — now known as the FAMiLY LEADER — between 2006 and 2010 for marriage counseling purposes also helped pay some operational expenses while the organization was leading a campaign against same-sex marriage. The information was found through grant documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.
The grant money reportedly helped the group — then known as the Iowa Family Policy Center — provide marriage counseling and education for hundreds of state residents. But the grant money also contributed to the salaries of five employees, rent, telephone, Internet and other expenses while the group was fighting same-sex marriage in Iowa.
The AP also quotes an anonymous University of Iowa researcher who was a consultant on the grant as saying the group declined to provide same-sex couples education and counseling with the funds.
After the Iowa Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in 2009, the FAMiLY LEADER was vocal in opposition to gay nuptials. The group wanted to block the ruling from taking effect and called on the state legislature to amend Iowa’s constitution to bar same-sex marriage.
The group supported last year in the Republican race for governor Bob Vander Plaats, who vowed to sign an executive order to overturn the marriage ruling. After losing to current Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad in the GOP primary, Vander Plaats led the campaign in 2010 that successfully ousted via referendum three of the justices who ruled in favor of same-sex marriage.
The FAMiLY LEADER didn’t immediately respond to the Washington Blade’s request for comment on the AP reporting or whether the organization believes efforts against same-sex marriage were an appropriate use of the grant. According to AP, the Department of Health & Human Services officials approved the grant budget, and there’s no indication the costs violated federal guidelines.
The information that $2.2 million in federal money went to the FAMiLY LEADER isn’t new. Reporter Andy Kopsa of the Washington Independent reported in April that the group received this money through the U.S. Healthy Marriage Demonstration Fund as part of a total of more than $3 million in grants.
But the AP report confirms that these funds aided efforts against same-sex marriage in Iowa and offers details on initiatives and employees working on that campaign who received money as a result of this grant.
Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, criticized the use of federal money to rescind marriage rights in Iowa.
“This appears to be an outrageous abuse of taxpayer money, in which funding intended to help support married couples was diverted into an attack on married couples, discrimination against some married couples, and a partisan political agenda that is anything but charitable,” Wolfson said.
Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, deferred further comment from the Obama administration on the AP report to HHS.
Richard Sorian, assistant secretary for public affairs at HHS, said the FAMiLY LEADER received its five-year grant in 2006 under a 2005 law signed by former President George W. Bush. But after the President Obama took office in 2009, Sorian said the organization declined the fifth year of its grant — citing “restraints” under the Obama administration — without identifying any restraint in particular.
“The key fact is they’re no longer a grantee and they pulled out of program after we began to review each grantee,” Sorian said. “It wasn’t just that grantee, all grantees were on an active-basis review to make sure that they were doing what they had asked for funds to do.”
Because the organization is no longer a grantee, Sorian said the administration is unable to investigate the FAMiLY LEADER for its use of federal funds.
Still, Sorian said the FAMiLY LEADER’s use of federal funds for its work against same-sex marriage wouldn’t have been appropriate. To receive the grant, Sorian said the FAMiLY LEADER had to propose what it would do with federal funds and how much money it wanted for each activity. But Sorian said campaigning against same-sex marriage wasn’t listed as among its proposals, so federal funds “could not be used for that purpose.”
The AP report isn’t the only media outlet indicating that federal funds could be used to harm or discriminate against LGBT Americans.
In July, Bachmann & Associates, the Minnesota Christian-faith clinic co-owned by Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann and operated by her husband, Marcus Bachmann, was revealed to have engaged in widely discredited ‘ex-gay’ reparative therapy. The clinic received $137,000 in Medicaid funds since 2005, although it’s unclear if this money paid for reparative therapy.
The Washington Independent also reported in February that Project SOS, a Jacksonville, Miss., based abstinence education program has received more than $6.5 million in federal funds since 2002. Several watchdog organizations have cited the group for spreading false information about HIV/AIDS. Additionally, Project SOS is a supporter of Ugandan pastor Martin Ssempa, a supporter of legislation that would institute the death penalty in the country for homosexual acts.
In response to such reporting, some LGBT advocates have called for an executive order specifically prohibiting the use of federal funds to discriminate against LGBT Americans.
Richard Socarides, president of Equality Matters, said the AP report from last week demonstrates the need for such a directive.
“We have sought for some time now an executive order specifically baring the use of federal funds for anti-gay purposes and this report again makes perfectly clear why it’s needed,” Socarides said.
Responding to a request for comment on such an order, Inouye said, “The president continues to examine steps the federal government can take to help secure equal rights for LGBT Americans. While I can’t speak to this specific proposal, we’ve already taken steps such as extending benefits to the same-sex domestic partners of federal employees and ensuring equal access to [Department of Housing & Urban Development] programs, and we hope to continue making progress.”
NOTE: This article has been updated.