The Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in Missouri has been thrust into the national spotlight following comments he made suggesting a woman can resist becoming pregnant after a “legitimate rape” — prompting LGBT advocates to decry not only his views on women but also his long history of opposition to LGBT rights.
Todd Akin, who’s seeking to oust Democrat Claire McCaskill from her seat representing Missouri in the U.S. Senate, raised eyebrows when he made comments in an interview that aired Sunday on St. Louis television station KTVI-TV after being asked if women who become pregnant as a result of sexual assault should have the option of abortion.
“If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down,” Akin said. “But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something. I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child.”
The remarks ignited a media firestorm, particularly over the notion of what Akin would consider a “legitimate” rape. The next day, Akin apologized on former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s radio show, saying his earlier remarks were “ill-conceived, and it was wrong.” Amid speculation that he would drop out of the race, Akin said he had no intention of quitting.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who’s leading Republican efforts to take control of the U.S. Senate, said Akin’s comments were “wrong, offensive and indefensible” and over the next 24 hours the candidate should consider what is best for him and people he’s seeking to represent in public office. The National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee has reportedly withdrawn $5 million in advertising planned for the Missouri race.
Akin has an anti-gay record as a six-term congressman representing Missouri in the U.S. House, where he has not only supported, but taken the lead, on measures targeting the LGBT community. He has consistently scored a “0” on the Human Rights Campaign’s annual congressional scorecards.
As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, Akin proposed an amendment in May — which the Republican-controlled panel adopted as part of major Pentagon spending legislation — to institute a “conscience clause” in U.S. code to allow service members to object to openly gay people in their ranks in the wake of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.
“The president has repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and he’s now using the military as campaign props to advance the gay agenda,” Akin said. “My sons and our sons and daughters didn’t volunteer to be part of some political agenda; they volunteered to protect our freedom in America.”
Last year, Akin introduced a committee amendment to expand the Defense of Marriage Act to prohibit military chaplains from officiating over same-sex wedding ceremonies and to bar same-sex marriages from taking place on military facilities. A similar amendment introduced by Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-Miss.) this year was attached to pending defense legislation. Palazzo said during the markup that Akin helped write the legislation.
On the House floor, Akin has a significant anti-LGBT record. The lawmaker twice voted in favor of the Federal Marriage Amendment when it came to the House floor in 2004 and 2006. In subsequent years, Akin voted against hate crimes protections legislation, a version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.
In 2006, Akin came to the House floor to decry same-sex marriage and suggested that countries that have allowed it have vanished as a result of that decision.
“From a practical point of view, to preserve our civilization and society, it’s important for us to preserve marriage,” Akin said. “Anybody who knows something about the history of the human race knows that there is no civilization which has condoned homosexual marriage widely and openly that has long survived.”
When legislation to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” came to the House floor in December 2010, Akin was among the House Republicans who were vocal against any attempt to repeal the military’s gay ban, saying the vote on repeal represented an attempt to impose a “social agenda” on the U.S. military during wartime as operations continue in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Over the course of the current Congress, Akin has voted for amendments affirming DOMA that have come to the House floor: the one offered by Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) last year as well as one offered by Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kansas) this year. He didn’t vote on the one offered by Steve King (R-Iowa) a few months ago.
Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, criticized Akin in a statement, calling him “one of the leading voices in the House working against the best interests of LGBT people.”
“He’s against any kind of relationship recognition for same-sex couples; he’s made remarks that are demeaning to LGBT families; he voted against the historic repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and he refuses to support workplace protections,” Griffin said. “Todd Akin is no friend to anyone who has experienced discrimination and is looking to their elected officials to protect their rights under the law.”
A.J. Bockelman, executive director of Missouri’s statewide LGBT group PROMO, said the endorsements that Akin has earned are reflective of anti-gay views that the candidate will act upon if elected to the Senate.
“His endorsement list includes foes of not just choice, but also LGBT equality — such as Eagle Forum, Phyllis Schlafly and Mike Huckabee,” Bockelman said. “Make no mistake, while Akin will attempt to back-peddle in his statement, when one examines his record and past statements, Akin is simply restating his beliefs loud and clear.”
Jerame Davis, executive director of the National Stonewall Democrats, said it’s time for Akin to not only abandon his campaign, but “resign from office with all due haste.”
“If he truly believes there is some sort of classification system for rape and that only certain types of rape can result in pregnancy, he is unfit for public office and has no business voting on issues he clearly cannot comprehend,” Davis said.
McCaskill was among the members of the Senate Armed Services Committee who voted to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 2010 even before the Pentagon produced its report on the issue later in the year.
On same-sex marriage, McCaskill hasn’t yet expressed support, but instead of outright opposing marriage equality has deferred to the states. Following President Obama’s endorsement of marriage equality, McCaskill’s office said she opposes discrimination against gays and lesbians, but believes states should “take the lead in determining marriage equality.”
“The state of Missouri’s position on this issue has been clearly established since 2004 and nothing about today’s announcement changes that,” McCaskill spokesperson John LaBombard was quoted as saying in the Springfield News-Leader.
The Missouri race is one of the most closely watched Senate races in the nation and could determine control of the Senate. Most polls gave Akin a slight lead. A poll published last week by SurveyUSA gave Akin an 11-point lead over McCaskill. But that poll was taken well before Akin made his controversial remarks.
Gay Republican groups had differing views on what consequences Akin should face as a result of his remarks.
R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, said his organization backs Cornyn’s decision to call on Akin to reconsider his campaign.
“Log Cabin Republicans support Chairman Cornyn and the National Republican Senatorial Committee decision to pull resources from Akin’s campaign,” Cooper said. “There is no such thing as ‘legitimate rape’.”
Jimmy LaSalvia, executive director of GOProud, said his organization would defer to the Missouri GOP on what should happen with its U.S. Senate candidate, but expressed concerns.
“We are going to leave it up to the Missouri Republican Party to determine who their nominee is in the U.S. Senate race,” LaSalvia said. “GOProud hopes that Sen. McCaskill is defeated this year, and we are seriously concerned about Akin’s ability to defeat her in November.”