Columns

Barney Frank to LGBT Voters: ‘People Have a Right to be Bigots,’ Don’t ‘Trash Them in Return’

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) announces his retirement on Capitol Hill on Nov. 29, 2011. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

WASHINGTON – Reacting to the Supreme Court ruling in favor of a baker who refused to make a cake for a same-sex couple, former Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) said that people “have a right to be bigots,” which is not “a license to trash them in return.”

“It was a very narrow ruling and there’s a lesson in there for LBGT people and advocates and others. Be careful. The fact that there are bigots who trash us is not a license to trash them in return. Yes, it’s important to stand up and call bigots ‘bigots,’ but don’t make illegitimate complaints about them,” Frank said during a discussion about the history of the LGBT movement on Tuesday evening at the Newseum, which plans to open its new exhibit “Rise Up: Stonewall and the Gay Rights Movement” next March.

Frank, who came out as gay in 1987 as a member of Congress and served until 2013, noted that Justice Anthony Kennedy authored the majority opinion in the Colorado baker case but wrote all of the past pro-gay opinions.

“He was moved to decide this in part because people on the Colorado Human Rights Commission may have been well-intentioned, but they were mean-spirited when they made nasty comments about religion. And so there’s a very important point for people on our side to understand: You can’t have a one-way standard,” said Frank, who became the first sitting member of Congress to enter into a same-sex marriage in 2012.

“Secondly, yeah, the ruling is very limited. I think it’s very clear if you are a gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, whatever your sexual self-description is, you will not be legally denied any service that is normally provided to others. Let’s be clear: that’s a given. The question is, if you want something specifically tailored to reflect your interests as a lesbian couple or as transgender people, how far can you go? And it is logical, yes, people have a right to be bigots and you have some limits on what you could have people sign on to,” he added.

To support his position, Frank mentioned that pro-choice activists have argued that it’s a violation of free speech to require a doctor to give an anti-abortion speech to his patients.

“This is not a principle that doesn’t have some two-way street,” he said.

Frank said LGBT activists were fearful “years ago” that states would pass laws that violate LGBT rights, but emphasized that they should not be discouraged after the recent Supreme Court ruling.

“People should not be discouraged as some are. Politically, they’re losing on this,” he said, referring to the GOP. “Basically, what happened here is greed has trumped bigotry. The business community in almost every state where this has come up has said to the people who want to pass laws enabling LGBT discrimination ‘please don’t do that.’”

Frank said that businesses “want to sell things to people” so they will continue to oppose any laws that would enable LGBT discrimination.

“They don’t want to take political sides. They prefer, most of them, as entities, they prefer most of them a rule that says they have to serve any well-behaved individual no matter what. Sometimes, people don’t want freedoms. People say, ‘oh, we need to do them a favor, we’re going to let them discriminate.’ And the answer is no, don’t bring any favors. I don’t want to have to choose,” he said.

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), who appeared with Frank on the panel, said she worries “a lot” about who will be the next Supreme Court justice.

“This was, as Barney said, a 7-2 decision but it was about the process that concluded in the state of Colorado that the owner of Masterpiece bakery would have to pay a fine,” she said. “And that process was flawed and there was bias involved. And so I don’t think a different justice would change the outcome in this case, but I do worry about a lot of others.”

Frank suggested that Democrats do the “same thing” the Republicans did in 2016 and refuse to fill any vacancy that opens on the Supreme Court next year or later.

“I have gone, given the delicate nature here in the 5-4, from being very angry at Ruth Ginsberg for not resigning, to wishing her eternal life,” Frank said.