Rep. Barney Frank tore into Mitt Romney for his anti-gay positions Tuesday night, calling the presumptive Republican presidential nominee “despicable.”
The gay lawmaker, who late last year announced his retirement after serving 31 years in Congress, made the comments about Romney during an interview with the Washington Blade following his keynote speech at the National Stonewall Democrats’ Capital Champions reception in D.C.
Frank took issue with what he said was Romney’s “willingness … to switch and become very anti-gay” after pledging in 1994 to be better on LGBT issues than the late Sen. Edward Kennedy. He also criticized Romney for statements that Frank said “trivialize our marriages.” During a speech in February, Romney said he “fought hard and prevented Massachusetts from becoming the Las Vegas of gay marriage.”
“That’s saying our marriages were a trick, were a sham,” Frank said. “He’s clearly prepared to embrace the most — oh, and supporting a constitutional amendment. What that says is that existing marriages are abolished. That’s just outrageous.”
Frank criticized Romney on the same night that the candidate swept five Republican primaries in Connecticut, Rhode Island, Delaware, Pennsylvania and New York. Following Romney’s wins, multiple media outlets reported that former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich would suspend his campaign next week. Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, Romney’s main challenger in the primary contests, exited the race earlier this month.
While widely viewed as more moderate than his primary opponents, Romney signed a pledge from the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage committing himself to back a U.S. constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court and set up a commission on religious liberty to investigate the alleged harassment of same-sex marriage opponents. NOM has also endorsed Romney.
Although Romney has said he opposes discrimination, Frank claimed he’s being disingenuous because Romney hasn’t articulated any ways in which he would work to bar discrimination against LGBT people. In 1994, Romney said he supported the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, but he has since disavowed that support, saying in 2006 that he sees no need for it, then in 2007 that employment non-discrimination should be a state issue.
“He’s lying,” Frank said. “What does that mean? How does he oppose discrimination? He’s not for any legislation that would make it illegal. So how does he oppose it? He is for a discrimination that would dissolve all the existing marriages. So what does that mean when he says that?”
Frank also said Romney doesn’t deserve credit from the LGBT community for last week hiring Richard Grenell, an openly gay man, as his spokesperson for national security and foreign affairs issues.
“He’s got one openly gay person,” Frank said. “How many people is he going to hire? He had some openly gay people work for him when he was in Massachusetts. We’re beyond giving people credit for not overtly discriminating.”
Frank refrained from criticizing President Obama for his decision not to issue an executive order at this time barring LGBT workplace discrimination among federal contractors.
Asked if he was disappointed Obama chose not to issue the executive order, Frank replied, “Not a great deal.” Frank said he wanted the president to issue the directive, but “was mixed on that” and said “there are other more important things we could be doing.”
“I understand there’s a lot on the plate politically,” Frank said. “And there are concerns now — not about LGBT issues — but there’s a whole developing argument about his being too much unilateral. I don’t know if you saw the article in the New York Times about too much unilateral executive order, and I think that had more to do with it than the LGBT specifics.”
Frank is planning to marry his partner Jim Ready in the summer. Obama continues to say he could “evolve” on the issue of marriage equality without announcing support for it. Frank got angry when asked about Obama’s position on marriage and said he should be commended for no longer defending DOMA in court.
“I don’t need the president’s permission to get married,” Frank said. “He’s doing a great thing against DOMA. I think you make a great mistake by focusing only on negative things. … I think that’s a mistake politically. I think we ought to be celebrating the gains as well as pushing further. And I think focusing only on some of the concerns. The president did an enormous thing for us when he not only said that DOMA was unconstitutional but said that any gay and lesbian issues had to be decided with that higher standard. I’m very happy with that. I’m not going to criticize him for not going further on that.”
Frank also expressed support for the idea of including a marriage equality plank in the Democratic Party platform, saying he “would like it.” He noted that it would satisfy him more to see explicit language in the document reaffirming opposition to DOMA.
“The only federal question is DOMA,” Frank said. “The federal government doesn’t have a rule about marriage or not, so I would want there to be a plank that says, ‘We respect the right of states to make this decision.’ I think what’s important from the federal standpoint is to go out against DOMA.”
Frank also commented on the decision by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to protect transgender workers from discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, saying he was “pleased” with the ruling, although he hasn’t fully read it.
He also pressed the need for ENDA passage, in part because the EEOC decision doesn’t cover gay or lesbian workers.
“I still want to see a transgender-inclusive ENDA because [the EEOC ruling] could be overturned in court,” Frank said. “That’ll be challenged, and they could take it back. On the other hand, it does mean, for now, transgender workers are more protected than gay, lesbian and bisexual workers. But we still need the bill.”