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In Conversation: Barney Frank

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BF: Never resign. Not run again. The reason is I knew that what Gobie had said was mostly untrue, and I wanted the House Ethics Committee to investigate it and show that it was untrue, which it did. Remember, I was reprimanded for fixing parking tickets and writing a letter about him that got to a probation officer, where I lied about how I met him. Nothing about running a prostitution ring, nothing about sex in the locker room, all the bad stuff he said—the Ethics Committee found it wasn’t true. I wasn’t going to resign, because if I resigned the Ethics Committee lost jurisdiction. There was never any criminal charges, so I would have lost the forum in which to disprove most of what he said. But I was ready not to run again, if I thought it would cost the Democrats the seat.

JZ: When you look at subsequent scandals—

BF: I won’t compare myself to anybody else.

JZ: Not comparing yourself to anyone else, but with Anthony Weiner, for instance, part of his problem was he didn’t come clean at the beginning, do you ever sort of say, get it out on the table.

BF: So the question, let me see if I get this, okay, not comparing yourself to somebody else, would you compare yourself to Anthony Weiner? What do you think the answer is to that? No. Don’t try to play games. I told you I’m not going to compare myself to anybody else. You can’t rephrase it and make me do it.

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Interview with Barney Frank, Rayburn House Office Building, February 15, 2012

JZ: Last time I was here, you were talking about Caro’s third volume on LBJ, and how you read it as a “how to” manual. You mentioned that there was one other book you read as a how to manual. And I didn’t ask you what that was.

BF: It was a biography of Adam Clayton Powell by Charles Hamilton. [phone rings and he takes the call.] Adam Clayton Powell was the third black member of the U.S. House, but he was the first self-respecting black member.

Powell got here in 45 and he was told that he couldn’t use the swimming pool, the members swimming pool, that was only for white people, he couldn’t eat in the House dining room, and he couldn’t get his hair cut. So he said, the hell I can’t, and he did it. And Powell, my analogy was, I was the first member of Congress voluntarily to come out, the second to come out, Gerry Studds was outed but courageously said that he was. So Gerry and I were sort of tied for being the first out members. And that was a line to walk about how do you affirm your identity as a gay man without making too much of it. I had a partner at the time and my view was, and I continue to believe this now — I’m about to get married to Jim — I don’t do anything just to make a point, but I don’t not do something so somebody else can make a point. It’s how to be self-respecting without being belligerent.

JZ: So are you going to get married while you’re still in office?

BF: Yes, in July.

JZ: You’re not doing it to make a symbolic gesture, but is there any—

BF: There’s an unintended benefit. I want to get married. I do think, to be honest, if I was running for reelection I might have tried to put the marriage off until after the election, because it just becomes a complication. But I did want to get married while I was still in office. I think it’s important that my colleagues interact with a married gay man.

JZ: Does your fiancé think he’ll be treated as just a regular spouse?

BF: By the Democrats, yes. Under the Defense of Marriage Act, he does not get any of the benefits. But he’s already a member of the Democratic spouses club and a lot of the spouses are very nice to him. One of the longtime leaders of the Democratic spouses group, Debbie Dingell, the wife of John Dingell, just sent me a note saying we want to have a big engagement party for you two. They made a big deal about our engagement at the last Democratic issues conference.

JZ: Has the speed with which gay marriage seems to be being accepted—

BF: It’s pleasantly surprised me. I filed the first gay-rights bill in the history of Massachusetts in 1972. At any time in the past 40 years if you had asked me to project the progress two or three years out, I would have been too pessimistic. It’s moving very rapidly. And I think within ten years, we’re going to have pretty close to full legal equality for gay and lesbian people in much of America. There still won’t be marriage rights, I believe, in many states, but there will be marriage rights in states that are at least half of the population, and there’ll be no federal restriction on recognizing that. It’s moved very quickly.


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