Akin tries to outflank other GOP Senate candidates on same-sex marriage issue
WASHINGTON – On the same day that President Barack Obama announced his support of same-sex marriage, U.S. Rep. Todd Akin accused him of using the military as “a campaign prop to advance the liberal agenda” and added an amendment to a defense bill that would allow military chaplains and other service members to openly criticize gay and lesbian lifestyles and the presence of homosexuals in the military.
Akin, R-Wildwood – in what seemed to be a move to outflank his rivals for the U.S. Senate on the red-hot issue – denounced Obama’s position Thursday as an “attack on our moral values.”
In a statement, Akin said Obama’s “unquenchable desire to tear down the traditional family unit brick by brick” had begun when “this administration foisted their agenda onto our sons and daughters serving in harm’s way by authorizing gay marriages on military bases, a direct violation of” the Defense of Marriage Act.
Earlier, Akin's two chief Republican rivals for the Senate -- former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman and businessman John Brunner -- had each issued harsh statements criticizing the president's action.
In both cases, their stances -- like Akin's -- appeared to be directed at the state's socially conservative Republican base.
Said Brunner: "President Obama now wants the federal government to redefine marriage in Missouri and everywhere in our country with his newly 'evolved' support for same-sex marriage. My consistent conservative belief is that marriage is between one man and one woman and it is a belief I will fight for in the United States Senate if Missourians elect me."
Brunner also contended that Obama had sought to use his gay-marriage announcement "to distract from his record of failure on economic issues including high unemployment, out of control spending and America's $15 trillion debt."
Steelman, meanwhile, recalled her role in the Missouri Senate as the chief sponsor of the constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage that Missouri voters overwhelmingly approved in August 2004. "President Obama's newfound support of same sex marriage is not surprising. I do not support same-sex marriage," Steelman added.
The strong Republican words contrasted with the nuanced comments of the Democratic incumbent the trio seek to oust -- U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.
McCaskill chooses words carefully
A spokesman, John LaBombard, said Thursday that the senator opposes discrimination against gays and lesbians but she believes that individual states should “take the lead” in deciding on marriage equality.
“The state of Missouri’s position on this issue has been clearly established since 2004 and nothing about [the Obama] announcement changes that,” LaBombard said in a statement.
Still, the state Republican Party joined in the effort to portray McCaskill as out of step with Missouri voters. The party issued a statement, with the words highlighted in bold, "Does Claire McCaskill agree with the President’s newfound support of gay marriage?
The state GOP, like most news outlets, have noted that in 2004, McCaskill -- as an unsuccessful candidate for governor -- had said that she opposed same-sex marriage, telling the Kansas City that year, "I believe that ‘marriage’ should be reserved to a woman and a man, based on the long tradition and religious context of the institution of marriage."
But she also had opposed the 2004 state constitutional amendment, telling reporters then -- and in her first bid for the U.S. Senate in 2006 -- that the constitutional ban was unnecessary, since there already was a state law on the books barring same-sex marriage.
Since then, she has expressed support for civil unions, which grant gay or lesbian couples some rights. A.J. Bockelman, executive director of PROMO -- Missouri's biggest group lobbying for gay rights -- contended that McCaskill "does need to be taking a stronger position. She should stand for the value of marriage equality. She's going to be forced to do this at some point, regardless."
Why? Bockelman acknowledged that McCaskill risks losing the support of rural Democrats if she comes out too strong in favor of gay rights, but he contended that she needs strong voter turnout in Missouri's major urban areas in order to win re-election. And in Missouri's urban areas, he said, "support for gay marriage is strong."
At the same time, Bockelman acknowledged that it's not a given that the gay-rights community votes solidly Democratic. Exit polls have shown that about one in four vote Republican, he said.
House panel approves Akin measure
Unrelated to Obama’s announcement, the House Armed Services Committee – in a day-long markup session on Wednesday – voted to approve Akin’s amendment and another measure related to the long-debated issue of gays in the military. The amendments were added to the $642 billion defense bill that the full House will debate next week.
Akin’s amendment, approved in a 36-25 vote, would in effect shield chaplains and other military service members from persecution for openly opposing the presence of gays in the military. It creates what he called a “statutory conscience protection clause” for members of the military in general and military chaplains in particular.
Akin said he wanted to protect the religious freedom and conscience rights of service members who oppose homosexuality but say they are pressured to hide their beliefs since last year’s repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” rule on gays in the military.
“This is trying to protect the ability of people to have their own opinion,” Akin said.
He told the Army Times this week that “we have heard stories of military
chaplains facing censorship for their opposition to the liberal agenda. Liberals may have successfully ended ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ but they should not be allowed to force members of our military to give up their religious beliefs.”
The news web site Politico quoted Akin as going beyond his written statement about Obama and saying during the committee session: “The president has repealed ‘don't ask, don't tell’ and is using the military as props to promote his gay agenda.”
The Armed Services Committee’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., opposed Akin’s amendment. He said that, even though the “don’t ask” policy has been repealed by the Pentagon, “members of this committee are looking to turn back the clock and find new ways to discriminate against gay and lesbian service members.”
Akin said his amendment was supported by the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty and the Archbishop for Military Services. But Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), which advocates for gay and lesbians in the military – denounced the Akin amendment in a statement Thursday.
Sarvis said the amendment would allow chaplains to discriminate against service members by religion, gender, sexual orientation or race by arguing that ministering to them would violate their religious beliefs or conscience.
“Mr. Akin is trying to solve a problem that does not exist. There are already in place adequate protections for chaplains and service members in this area,” Sarvis said. “No one in uniform is being required to go against their conscience, and no one is being punished for expressing their personal religious beliefs.”
The House panel, in a 37-24 vote, also adopted another amendment, offered by Rep. Steve Palazzo, R-Miss., and advocated by Akin, that would bar same-sex marriages or “marriage-like” ceremonies on military installations or any property owned, rented or under the control of the Defense
Palazzo said he wanted to turn back Pentagon policies that now allow private
same-sex marriages and permit chaplains to perform the rites.
The SLDN’s Sarvis criticized that amendment as “another attempt by a few opponents of military equality who are looking to turn the clock back on progress and relegate gay and lesbian service members to second-class status.”