July 29, 2005
Volume 33
Issue 30

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The 'brainiest' and 'funniest' Democratic member of the House of Representatives heads to Seattle
The 'brainiest' and 'funniest' Democratic member of the House of Representatives heads to Seattle
An interview with Congressman Barney Frank

American Voices with

Congressman Barney Frank

Wednesday, August 3, 7:30 p.m.

Benaroya Hall. Tickets are $15-$75: (206) 325-2993

Congressman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) will be in Seattle on Wednesday, August 3, to help raise funds for Rep. Jim McDermott and for a speaking engagement at Benaroya Hall. Both events are open to the public.

He is scheduled to speak at a fundraiser for McDermott's legal defense during an event hosted by the Law Firm of Garvey Schubert Barer (1191 Second Ave., Suite 1800, Seattle) beginning at 5:00 p.m. on August 3. The Seattle-based law firm, which is not representing any of the parties involved in the litigation, is requesting a suggested donation of $100 per guest. McDermott is facing a lawsuit from Congressman Jim Boehner of Ohio, who is seeking monetary compensation. McDermott had released a copy of a telephone conference call between House Republican leaders, including Boehner who was on a trip to Florida at the time. The call, which included a strategy session on how to fight ethics charges against Newt Gingrich, violated an agreement between Gingrich and Ethics Committee investigators.

Congressman Frank will also be the inaugural speaker for the 2005-2006 "American Voices" series sponsored by Foolproof Performing Arts. In his address the evening of August 3 at Benaroya Hall, the Congressman is expected to discuss current events, where the country is headed and what concerned citizens can do to affect the outcome. The event begins at 7:30 p.m. Tickets range from $15 to $75.

Frank began his distinguished Congressional career in 1981 and has since emerged as a tough and plain-spoken advocate for the disenfranchised. He has worked to improve working conditions at home and abroad, fought for the rights of workers to unionize, and sought to increase the social service safety net for the poorest Americans. Frank passionately advocates for equal treatment and fairness under the law for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people, and his efforts have kept LGBT issues and causes before members of Congress and the American public.

Congressman Frank has a proven track record of success, which began as Massachusetts State Representative and as an assistant to the Mayor of Boston. In addition, he has taught at several Boston area universities and donated his time and money to LGBT and AIDS organizations. Currently, he is the Senior Democrat on the Financial Services Committee.

A survey of Capitol Hill staffers published in a 2004 edition of Washingtonian magazine named Frank as the "brainiest" and "funniest" Democratic member of the House of Representatives.

On Thursday, Frank spoke with the Seattle Gay News about his visit to Seattle, issues facing the LGBT community and issues of national significance.

SGN: Have you been to Seattle before?

Barney Frank: Several times. Sometimes on GLBT stuff. I was out a couple times when we were dealing with a potential referendum. I spoke at Evergreen College and have been to Olympia and met with Democrats there. I have done events for Bryan Baird and Rick Larsen.

SGN: Have you decided what you plan to say?

BF: Not entirely. Part of it will be on the right-wing administration and the war in Iraq. I also want to address an issue that we have to focus on a little better and that is, "Do you put moral values into public policy?" I think the answer is, "Of course, you should." I think liberals have made a mistake by seeming to suggest that public policy should not be fused with morality. The problem with the ultra religious right, the fundamentalists and the extreme conservatives, is not that they want to put morality into public policy, but they want to put public policy into areas where it doesn't belong. We are talking about things that are legitimately public issues - pollution, healthcare and foreign policy. Of course they should have some morality there, so that children don't get brain damaged by paint or for us to use force to engage in military activity that does more harm than good. It's immoral to have discrimination. It is immoral for 15-year-old Lesbians to be bullied and beaten and tormented in high school. We shouldn't concede the moral ground.

SGN: Do you feel that the right-wing has had more access to this administration than in the past?

BF: This is the most right-wing administration in American history. If you judge a group of politicians in the context of their times, they are clearly more conservative than any administration since Calvin Coolidge. While Coolidge was very conservative economically, he didn't have this intrusive, offensive effort to try and interfere in private lives.

Economically there are people who are terribly right-wing. They want to destroy unions. They don't believe in minimum wage. They don't believe in the basic social safety net - they try to tear it apart every way. They are also opposed to any government actions to protect victims of discrimination. Then, they go beyond that and take their own religious morality - to which they are entitled - and want to intrude in public policy. They seek to criminalize intimate personal behavior, saying we shouldn't do stem cell research because some people regard an embryo as a person. The governor of Massachusetts, who used to pretend to be a moderate, is now moving to the right to run for President in this right-wing Republican primary process&

The greatest hypocrisy of the Bush Administration is being propagated by the Chairman of the Republican National Committee, Ken Mehlman. He made an outrageously dishonest statement saying, "With regard to same-sex marriage, all George Bush wants to do is to allow the state legislatures do decide this." That is simply a lie. The amendment that George Bush is pushing would say that even if a state legislature allowed same-sex marriage, the federal constitution would override that. In Massachusetts, same-sex marriage has no negative impact on anybody& The Massachusetts Legislature is now about to say that same-sex marriage is okay. They are actually going to vote down an effort to amend our state constitution to outlaw it.

What George Bush's constitutional amendment would do would be to override the decision of the Massachusetts Legislature. The people of Massachusetts elected a Legislature prepared to say that same-sex marriage is perfectly okay. George Bush wants a constitutional amendment that would cancel that decision. Ken Mehlman - blatantly, dishonestly - says, "Oh, no. We will leave this to the state legislatures." What it does is take it away from the state legislatures.

SGN: You represent the State of Massachusetts. Have you seen the downfall of society - the moral decay of the family - as opponents of same-sex marriage have claimed would occur?

BF: There has been zero negative affect. The only people who have been affected by the decision to allow same-sex marriages are a few people who lived across the street from a couple of Lesbians and had to buy them wedding presents. That is clear to people in Massachusetts. No one - credibly - argues now that this has a negative affect on anybody. We knew that would be the case.

When we did the Americans with Disabilities Act, when we have passed state constitutional amendments that say no discrimination based on gender, when we banned racial discrimination. In every one of those cases the right-wingers said, "Oh, well, we don't dislike these people." Some of them are lying when they say that, some are sincere. But they say, "If you pass this law it will have terribly disastrous consequences." Whenever we talk about ending discrimination against any one group people always predict terrible chaos and it has never arisen.

SGN: Roe v. Wade and the possibility of equal marriage rights for same-sex couples may appear before the Supreme Court. What is your stance on Judge Roberts, Bush's nominee for a Supreme Court seat?

BF: I think judge Roberts will be a disaster for us. There is no question he is a conservative guy. Bush knows what he's doing. Bush is now half way - if he gets Roberts confirmed, to overturning Roe v. Wade. He only needs one more. John Stevens is 85 years old. He is halfway to overturning the Lawrence decision& He's probably got affirmative action overturned. This guy, he's going to also win the right to allow government to impose religion on people in a variety of ways. This is a very serious problem.

SGN: Canada has legalized marriage for same-sex couples. What influence do you think it will have on the debate in the United States?

BF: Over time it will help the debate. That is, it is too early now& I think it will be very clear that same-sex marriage in Canada has had no negative affects. That will be helpful. There are two groups of people that are opposed to same-sex marriage. A small number - the leaders of the fight - don't like us. The bigots out there don't like the notion of a Gay person. If you don't like the notion of one Gay person, you really hate the idea of two of us hanging out together. So, they are just bigots. The larger majority - who probably support nondiscrimination and other measures - have heard from governors, professors and clergy that this is going to cause chaos [but] we have evidence that allowing same-sex marriage has literally zero negative consequences, then we win over some of those people. So, I think the experience in Massachusetts, the experience in Vermont, in the states that are moving toward civil unions or beyond that and the experience in Canada - these will help us. It will become harder and harder for people to use these scare tactics.

SGN: What are the dangers facing the LGBT community at the moment?

BF: One danger is that if George W. Bush gets one more Supreme Court appointment, then a very important decision, the Lawrence decision, which says it was unconstitutional to prosecute two consenting men having sex in their bedroom; that would be overturned. John Roberts would overturn that. You have Bush talking about how Scalia - virulent homophobe - is such a good model for him. The other is that more and more states will pass anti-marriage amendments that will not simply be anti-marriage amendments but will go way beyond that to interfere with anything that has to do with domestic partnerships.

SGN: Let's talk a little more about this Administration. With evidence such as the Downing Street memo, the faulty intelligence about the yellow cake uranium in Niger and then, of course, the effort of this administration to tie Saddam Hussein to Al Qaeda; do you think the American people were deceived about our reasons for going to war in Iraq?

BF: Yes. Although, some of it - on the part of Congress - was a kind of a self deception. That is, I think the Congress should have been more skeptical; I certainly was. There was never a plausible argument between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. That was never true. There was some uncertainty about the weapons of mass destruction and I can understand why people might have legitimately been concerned. The argument that the way to deal with WMD's was to invade was never plausible. It has now created an Administration that blatantly misrepresented the WMD's and continues to misrepresent the ties to Al Qaeda. Cheney continues to lie about that. So, yeah, I think people were misled& I think the majority of the American people understand those things were not true.

SGN: What else do you want our readers to know?

BF: One of the things that the right-wing is trying to do now is split us. If John Roberts gets confirmed and they get another one, the decisions that will be overturned will be the right of a woman to decide what to do if she's pregnant; affirmative action, which deals with racial discrimination; and the right of people of the same sex to have private consenting sex. Some people say that the fight against homophobia and the fight against racism are different fights, but they have same enemy. You have to understand that. By the way, you see that in the Congress. The lead group in the U.S. House of Representatives, the demographic group that has been the most supportive of us, has been the Congressional Black Caucus. I think that it is very important for people to say that we are going to work together to fight discrimination of all kinds.
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