Frank Clarifies, But Does Not Backtrack, On Scalia ’Homophobe’ Remark
In an interview with a Boston radio station, openly gay Congressman Barney Frank offered specifics--but not an apology--regarding his reference, in an earlier interview, to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia as a "homophobe."
Scalia has opposed rights for gay and lesbian Americans, but Frank made it plain that he did not view all individuals who oppose equality under the law for GLBT Americans as being homophobic.
According to a March 24 article at Political Intelligence, which was carried by Boston.com Frank told Boston’s WBZ, "What a ’homophobe’ means is someone who has prejudice about gay people."
Frank added that based on the Justice’s own written opinions, Scalia himself "makes it very clear that he’s angry, frankly, about the existence of gay people."
For evidence of his interpretation, Frank referred to the 2003 Supreme Court case that invalidated anti-gay sodomy laws, the article noted.
The case, Lawrence v. Texas, amounted to a reversal of a 1986 case, Bowers v. Harwick, which considered much the same question and upheld the right of states to make laws targeting gays for sexual acts that were legal for straight couples to engage in.
Though the Supreme Court voted 6-3 to strike down sodomy laws in Lawrence v. Texas, Scalia dissented, writing that the court’s ruling served a so-called "agenda promoted by some homosexual activists directed at eliminating the moral opprobrium that has traditionally attached to homosexual conduct."
Said Frank, "If you read [Scalia’s] opinion, he thinks it’s a good idea for two consenting adults who happen to be gay to be locked up because he is so disapproving of gay people."
Frank’s explanation followed a March 13 interview with gay publication 365Gay.com, in Frank reckoned that the chances of doing away with a federal piece of anti-gay legislation, the 1996 "Defense of Marriage Act," which specifically excludes gay and lesbian families from federal marriage recognition, would be poor if the matter went before the current Supreme Court.
Though DOMA does not forbid states from allowing marriage equality, it does forbid any federal agency to recognize legal gay and lesbian marriages granted by states. As a result, all federal level marriage rights are withheld from couples legally married in Massachusetts and Connecticut, where marriage equality is legal.
If the 18,000 marriages performed in California are found to remain valid in the wake of the anti-gay constitutional amendment that voters in that state narrowly approved at the ballot box last November, those families will still retain marriage benefits on the state level, while also being excluded from federal recognition.
The disparity effectively creates a different taxation system for families who live in states where their marriages are recognized, but who have to file federal returns as though they were not families.
The provisions of DOMA also forbid the U.S. Census Bureau to count gay and lesbian families in the census, which affects federal funding for family programs.
Said Frank, "I wouldn’t want it to go to the United States Supreme Court now because that homophobe Antonin Scalia has too many votes on this current court."
Though Clarence Thomas, another conservative Supreme Court Justice, also dissented in the case of Lawrence v. Texas, Frank drew a distinction between him and Scalia, saying that Thomas’ dissent was founded in "very reasonable" arguments, and adding, "While I support same-sex marriage, I don’t think if you’re against it you’re homophobic.
"I don’t think Clarence Thomas is homophobic," added the Democratic Massachusetts congressman.
In a March 24 follow-up article to the original interview, 365Gay.com offered a recap, with the article text reading, "Here’s the context, the headlines that may have been overshadowed by one choice word, and the rest of the story."
During his campaign, President Obama had indicated that he would lead an attempt to repeal DOMA. Asked about Obama and DOMA, Frank opined, "As much as I dislike that law and I led the fight against it, I don’t think it’s appropriate to say that the president should pick and choose what laws he defends."
The congressman went on to say, "On the other hand, I do think that this argument, that it is unconstitutional for the federal government to pick and choose which marriages it will accept, is a good one, and at some point its going to have to go to the United States Supreme Court."
When it comes to federal marriage equality, however, "I wouldn’t want it to go to the United States Supreme Court now because that homophobe Antonin Scalia has too many votes on this current court," Frank said.
365Gay.com noted that right-wing pundits pounced on the comment, as did the mainstream media outlets such as the Associated Press.
But Frank, even while offering more insight on his definition of what constitutes a "homophobe," declined to offer the usual bromides about having "misspoken" or wishing to apologize when he spoke with WBX radio.
The 356Gay.com interview, noted the site’s follow-up article, also addressed other equality issues of importance to GLBT Americans, including the military’s ban on openly gay troops and federal hate crimes legislation.
When asked by interviewer Ross Palombo whether President Obama would make good on his pledge to address "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell," the 16-year-old ban on openly gay military servicemembers that is viewed even by many former supporters as outdated, Frank replied, "Absolutely," the article recalled.
Added the congressman, "I think there are three pieces of legislation we should be able to get an enacted in his first 2 years with this Democratic Congress," going on to identify those items as the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), the repeal of "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell," and "a transgender-inclusive hate crimes bill."
When the issue of Proposition 8, the anti-gay California amendment that stripped existing marriage rights from gay and lesbian families, came up, Frank offered a measured view, telling 365Gay.com, "I wouldn’t say that was a step back, rather an inability to take a step forward."
The congressman went on to say, "Reality beats prejudice," noting, "And the more people who are married and the more people who know about that the likelier we are to be able to expand it."
Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor, writing about film, theater, food and drink, and travel, as well as contributing a column. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.