When Ashcroft’s nomination was announced, the Human Rights Campaign, one of the nation’s largest gay rights organizations, called it ‘’a frightening halt to the moderate tone’’ of earlier Bush nominations.
Ashcroft was a co-sponsor of the Defense of Marriage Act, a law passed in 1996 which bans federal recognition of gay marriages and prohibits spouses in same-sex marriages from receiving federal benefits.
At the time, Ashcroft asserted that unlike race and gender, homosexuality ‘’is clearly a choice—a choice that can be made and unmade,’’ according to a report by the San Francisco Chronicle.
”It is a difficult challenge for the civil rights and gay community because of his record in the Congress,” said Steve Gunderson, a former congressman from Wisconsin who was the first openly gay Republican member of Congress. Gunderson said gay Republicans would like to hear out Ashcroft on the issues, before making a final judgment on whether he will be judicious in dealing with issues that affect gay rights.
But, he said, “in some respects, you can’t change a person’s history. You can’t change his voting history or his public statements. He is going to have to answer to them.”
Other gay rights leaders say find other recent Bush nominations, Gail Norton for Interior Secretary, and Linda Chavez for Labor Secretary, disturbing.
Norton, formally Colorado’s attorney general, strongly defended the voters’ passage of Amendment 2, which denied gays the right to legal protection against discrimination. The U.S. Supreme Court through out the new law in 1996, saying it was “born of animosity” toward gays.
Norton continued to defend the law. “Even beyond the issue of sexual orientation, Amendment 2 raised a deep question about civil rights law: Is there a way to step back from the proliferation of special rights conferred on the basis of various characteristics?” she wrote in The Denver Post.
Bush on Gay Rights
The Rev. Michael Piazza, the senior pastor of The Cathedral of Hope, a large Dallas church that welcomes gays and lesbians into his congregation, was sitting in his office in 1999 when he got a call from a Texas state Republican legislator who was upset about a closed-door meeting he had had with Gov. Bush and other leading Republicans.
The meeting was about a highly-publicized hate crimes bill that was being debated just 18 months after James Byrd was killed in a heinous racial murder in Jasper, Texas.
The legislator, according to Piazza, told him that Bush told the Republicans leaders: ‘Do not send me a bill with sexual orientation in it.’ The bill at the time included a clause that protected people against bias because of their sexual orientation.
“It was purely a ploy for him to make sure he got support of the right wing of the party,” Piazza claims.
But Bush has said he simply opposed the legislation because he believes that “all crime is hate crime.”
Gay supporters of Bush say many gay people care more about economic issues, and not whether they will be harassed or discriminated against at work.
“Most gay people are pretty secure in their jobs and not afraid of being victims,” said Kevin Ivers, a spokesman for Log Cabin Republicans, a gay Republican organization. “We’re worried about the economy, worried about spouses getting proper benefits, their inheritance. They are about their children. They want to adopt and they want their children to go to decent schools. These are the kinds of things that gays feel a lot more passionately about.”