Rep. Frank gives Obama high marks on gay issues, rips marriage stance

Rep. Frank gives Obama high marks on gay issues, rips marriage stance

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) this week gave President Obama high marks on gay issues, but said it's "a problem" that the administration has declined to endorse gay marriage.

Obama this week stirred criticism from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community when, during a trip to North Carolina, he declined to weigh in on a pending state bill banning civil unions and domestic partnerships.


Frank, the first openly gay member of Congress, said Obama's silence was expected but disappointing.

"It's not a surprise," Frank said. "He hasn't yet said that he's for [gay] marriage, so that's a problem."

Frank was quick, however, to applaud Obama's overall record on gay issues, giving him an "A-minus" across the board. The Massachusetts liberal praised Obama's decision to quit any legal defense of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) – which defines marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman – and to repeal the Pentagon's long-standing "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy.

Frank said the administration's adoption of new federal standards for gauging discrimination under DOMA is particularly good.

"He's been good [but] he hasn't been perfect," Frank said. "He just hasn't quite gotten to the marriage [issue]."

Frank is not alone. Many LGBT advocates have cheered Obama's moves on DOMA and "Don't Ask Don't Tell, while also expressing frustration at his decision not to endorse gay marriage. The president said last year that his position on the marriage issue is still "evolving." 

The issue crept onto Capitol Hill in February, when House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) endorsed a push to have the national Democratic Party adopt gay marriage rights as an official plank of the 2012 campaign.

At the time, Pelosi said she was encouraged by Obama's willingness to change his mind, but made clear her endorsement was hers alone.

"I was talking about myself, not the entire Democratic Party, or speaking for the president," she emphasized.

Earlier this month, Frank joined more than 70 other House Democrats in calling on Obama to adopt an executive order explicitly prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating against employees based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The Democrats see the executive order as the most practical way to adopt that policy in the absence of passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA, which has almost no chance of passing the House under GOP control.

Yet Frank this week was rethinking his support for that executive order, suggesting the politic storm likely to follow such a move could distract from the policy change and undermine its effectiveness. 

"The problem there, to be honest, is not so much gay and lesbian issues, but there's a lot of controversy about too many executive orders. … And so I think it's probably wise to wait on that," Frank said. 

"I wrote that I'm for it, but in the context of the criticism on too many executive orders, I think it's reasonable to wait until next year."

Frank, who's retiring at the end of the year after 16 terms, is hoping Democrats will do well enough at the polls in November that that they can preclude an executive order and enact a bill instead.

"If we win the House and the Senate," he said, "I'd rather do it legislatively."