Foley, In Closet, Quietly Championed Gay Rights

Mark FoleyWASHINGTON – It was on a Wednesday night in July 2001 that then-Rep. Mark Foley brought the U.S. House to a screeching halt on a gay-rights issue.
The issue was whether faith-based initiatives should be exempt from local ordinances, such as those in Palm Beach County and West Palm Beach, that prohibit hiring discrimination based on race, gender or sexual orientation.
Foley opposed the proposed exemption and led a rump revolt of moderate Republicans that delayed the measure for more than a day, though ultimately it was unsuccessful.
Although it was widely seen as a gay issue, the Fort Pierce Republican portrayed it as a fight over local and state anti-discrimination laws. It was typical of how Foley sought to publicly obscure his sexual orientation.
Until his lawyer said this week that Foley was gay, he had never publicly acknowledged it. That acknowledgment came four days after he resigned from Congress after being confronted with sexually explicit electronic messages that he had exchanged with former congressional pages.
During his dozen years in Congress, Foley championed gay rights, with one notable exception.
In 1996, he voted for the Defense of Marriage Act, a law that defined marriage as between two people of opposite sex and that said states did not have to recognize gay marriages from other states.
The gay community was outraged, and many within the community called for Foley to be outed in the media.
“Most of the anger from gay people who know Mark came when he voted for the Defense of Marriage Act,” said Eric Johnson, the openly gay chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Delray Beach. “They said, ‘You’re a huge hypocrite.’ “
Foley defended his vote as one for states’ rights, not against gays.
Former Foley staffers, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the Roman Catholic-raised Foley believed marriage was a religious institution involving a man and a woman.
“In Mark’s mind, the way it was explained was marriage is a religious institution more than it was a legal definition,” one former staffer said. “He never wanted to meddle in religious institutions.”
Foley also believed marriage laws were a state responsibility and that federal legislation should not supersede the right of states to determine which marriages they would recognize, the aides said.
“You tell me if Bill Clinton is anti-gay. If he is, how could he sign it?” a former Foley aide said, referring to the Defense of Marriage Act. Clinton signed the measure into law in September 1996.
On other issues, Foley pushed legislation supported by the gay community to expand health-care benefits for gay partners, remove discrimination against gays in the workplace, increase federal spending on AIDS and include in federal hate-crimes law crimes against people because of their sexual orientation.
He also voted against the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment, which would have amended the Constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman and to deny marital legal benefits to same-sex couples.
One former aide described the difference between Foley’s votes for the Defense of Marriage Act and against the Federal Marriage Amendment as a vote to uphold states’ rights in the first instance and against altering the Constitution in the second.
While he did not publicize it, Foley was ranked as one of the top Republicans on biennial congressional scorecards issued by the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest organization dedicated to “gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender equality,” according to its Web site.
For the 108th Congress (2003-04), Foley received a score of 88 percent, tied for the highest score among the Florida delegation. During that session, he co-sponsored or voted for seven of the eight legislative measures identified by the campaign as important to the gay community. By comparison, 13 of the delegation’s 18 Republicans scored zero.
In the previous Congress (2001-02), the campaign gave Foley positive marks on five of the six issues it scored. The Human Rights Campaign’s political action committee recognized his support on gay issues by contributing $27,000 to him since the 2000 election cycle.
“In general, we think he’s taken the right positions, not just for the gay community but for the country,” said Roberta Sklar, spokeswoman for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. “He’s a moderate Republican who has generally voted for fairness and equality.”
Yet Foley hid his sexual orientation from voters and remained a Republican despite numerous anti-gay positions taken by GOP leaders who used gay marriage and gay rights as political red meat.
In 2003, he was gearing up to run for the U.S. Senate when the weekly New Times reported that he was gay. Foley called a telephone news conference to say he would not discuss his sexuality. A few months later he dropped out of the race, citing concerns about his father’s bout with cancer.
Despite the anti-gay stances taken by many GOP leaders, there is a strong gay community within the Republican Party.
Patrick Sammon, executive vice president of the gay Log Cabin Republicans, said many of its members believe in core GOP issues such as national security, personal responsibility, limited government and low taxes.
“Yet at the same time, I’m working to make the Republican Party more inclusive and tolerant of gay and lesbian issues,” Sammon said. “Gay and lesbian equality will be impossible to achieve without Republican voters. Clearly, the Republican Party is not where it needs to be on issues related to gay rights.”
A former board member of the Lesbian and Gay Congressional Staff Association, who asked not to be identified, said that for many gay Republicans, it is “almost like a religion” in that people are born into a family in which the parents and grandparents also were Republicans.
A former Foley aide noted that the congressman, who switched from the Democratic Party early in his political career, was a Republican long before gay issues became a rhetorical hot button in the past few years.
from The Palm Beach Post

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