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  • « 2006: The closet's swan song? | Main | Próspero Ano Novo! »

    December 31, 2006

    Kolbe finally finds his voice

    Posted by: Chris

    Kolbe_1 His last session of Congress behind him, retirement from public office only days away, Jim Kolbe has finally found his voice — or at least cleared his throat.  The gay Republican from Arizona granted a few farewell interviews before he steps down after more than two decades in Congress, to be replaced fittingly by a Democrat.

    So with absolutely nothing left at stake, no political capital to lose, Kolbe finally took baby steps toward righting two long-standing wrongs: He admitted he was wrong to vote in favor of the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, and for the first time I'm aware of, he came out in favor of gay marriage.

    Oddly enough, the admissions didn't come in an interview he gave before Christmas to the Washington Blade. That article mentioned only that Kolbe defended his DOMA vote because the law allows states to make their own decision on whether to marry gay couples. As I wrote for the Blade's blog back in July, that's excuse won't fly:

    Kolbe rationalizes his support for DOMA the way some others have, as "states rights" legislation that really just prevents one state that marries gay couples from "forcing" every other state to legally recognize those marriage licenses. But Kolbe knows better than that. DOMA goes much further, blocking the federal government as well from giving any legal recognition to married gay couples.

    Ironically, Kolbe complains later in the interview that the Human Rights Campaign hasn't devoted more energy to extending Social Security survivor benefits to gay couples — a move that would require repealing the half of DOMA that goes unmentioned in the article.  Instead, Kolbe told the Blade, his only regret was that he was pressured into coming out — by an article about DOMA the Advocate was working on back in 1996 that Kolbe feared would out him.  The article doesn't mention another irony; that years later, Judy Weider, the Advocate editor at the time, admitted she had scrapped the story after her publisher said straight advertisers would bolt if the magazine outed someone.

    It was in another farewell interview, this one with his hometown Arizona Daily Star, that Kolbe owned up on DOMA and spoke approvingly, for the first time I'm aware of, about gay marriage:

    On gay marriage, [Kolbe] said it or civil unions will be pretty widespread in this country in a decade or two because it is a fundamental human right that people should be able to legally celebrate the commitment of relationships. "Friends of mine in New York have been together for 45 to 50 years," Kolbe said. "Shouldn't we celebrate that?"

    But with the exception of one point, Kolbe said he didn't regret his 1996 vote in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act, which allows states to refuse recognition of gay marriages approved in other states. His vote on that bill prompted a gay-oriented magazine to prepare an article "outing" him as a homosexual, which led Kolbe to publicly declare that he is gay. "I could make a very good argument that marriage belongs in the hands of the state," he said. "I don't think that should be changed."

    His regret on that vote centers on the act's failure to grant participants in gay marriages, in states where they are legal, the right to federal benefits such as Social Security and Medicare earned by one's partner — the same rights that spouses in traditional marriages have. "What I would say now. … I recognize that we have to have some protection at the federal level," Kolbe said.

    It's about time, Congressman Kolbe. Ten years later, you finally own up to a vote cast no doubt from within a fearful closet. Though both the Blade and Daily Star articles portray the DOMA vote as Kolbe's one gay-rights failure, his HRC scorecard before coming out was roughly a 50 on a scale of zero to 100.

    Neither article also mentions Kolbe's unwillingness to aggressively push immigration rights for binational gay couples — those couples where one partner is American and the other is not. Kolbe was a co-sponsor of the Uniting American Families Act, which would extend to gay couples the same rights heterosexual married couples have in this regard. But he didn't use the considerable influence he had on the issue this year, given his role as one of the most prominent moderate Republicans in the House pushing the White House version of immigration reform.

    No one is arguing a more vocal push from Kolbe would have made the difference for UAFA, especially since immigration reform died on the vine, but having done nothing, the legislation is still at the starting blocks, instead of being advanced somewhat down the line. Kolbe's relative silence on UAFA is especially disturbing since he knows up close and personal the difficult choices faced by gay binational couples.  For one thing, three top former leaders of the Log Cabin Republicans are in binational relationships with partners from Latin America. For another, so is Kolbe. (For those who don't know, I should disclose that I am as well.)

    Unfortunately, Kolbe's timidity on gay marriage, DOMA and immigration reform aren't the only things tarnishing his two decades in Congress. The Mark Foley scandal stuck to Kolbe as well, since it turns out one of Kolbe's former pages asked the Arizona congressman to help convince Foley to stop contacting him. Both interviews touch on the subject, though he told the Blade only that he was happy the House ethics committee concluded no rules were broken. He doesn't mention that the House report largely lets him off the hook because he is retiring from Congress and thereby escaping the committee's jurisdiction.

    Also lost in the shuffle of the Foley report were the disturbing things the committee did report about Kolbe, including the former page's recollection that Kolbe tried to convince him not to come forward about his problem with Foley after the scandal broke in October, as well as how Jeff Trandahl, the (gay) then-chief clerk of the House, who had oversight of the page program, repeatedly warned Kolbe that he was being too familiar with pages, and that Trandahl considered Foley and Kolbe distractions from the program.

    The Blade article also left out that Kolbe is also under criminal investigation for his own relationship with young male pages, based on complaints that surfaced about a trip he took to the Grand Canyon with a group of them back in 1996. The Daily Star asked him about it, and Kolbe defended it as "completely above board," "a very legitimate trip" and "a terrific experience for 12 people over three days."

    In a final irony, Kolbe's page problem may impact his future work plans. Kolbe, 67, told the Daily Star that in addition to work for the German Marshall Fund, he plans to teach a class next fall at the University of Arizona. No doubt administrators there are already reconsidering that plan, given the allegation that Kolbe abused his power relationship with young people.

    It didn't have to be this way, of course. But as with Foley and other closeted politicians, Kolbe is in many ways a product of his generation. His departure leaves gay Republicans with no out representatives in Congress, and we can only hope that whoever follows in their footsteps will do so with greater integrity.



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    1. Dissecting Jim Kolbe from Gay Patriot on Jan 2, 2007 11:12:06 AM

      Chris Crain has a great report on his blog about the parting comments by US Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-AZ) as he retires from Congress.  Here are some excerpts... His last session of Congress behind him, retirement from public office only days away, Jim Kolbe h... [Read More]


    1. Andoni on Dec 31, 2006 4:51:00 PM:

      Nice piece on Kolbe.

      My first reaction is, does Kolbe think we are stupid? If he defended his vote for DOMA with the states’ rights argument that marriage should be determined by the states, why would he then agree to allow the federal government to trump the states by defining marriage the way it wants to?

      If he really believes what he said, "I could make a very good argument that marriage belongs in the hands of the state…..I don't think that should be changed," he couldn’t have voted for DOMA on principle.

      Genuine states’ rights means that the states decide and the feds stay out of it. It’s as simple as that. His explanation was/is pure bullshit……..and you are too kind to say he should have known better. He’s simply trying to make an excuse.

      He should simply say he made a big mistake, he was wrong and he regrets it because it is causing harm to countless good gay and lesbian taxpaying citizens…. and forget any excuses to make it sound like he was acting on principle.

    1. Alan on Jan 1, 2007 12:08:17 PM:

      For one thing, three top former leaders of the Log Cabin Republicans are in binational relationships with partners from Latin America. For another, so is Kolbe. (For those who don't know, I should disclose that I am as well.)

      What's wrong with the millions of single American gay men - can't any of you find your soulmates closer to home? Or is this like straight men who get mail order Asian brides who will be subservient and keep their mouths shut?

      Still, as one of those single gay American men I hope you all will be happy with your partners - wherever they're from. Forgive me if my envy is showing.

    1. North Dallas Thirty on Jan 2, 2007 3:05:17 PM:

      For some reason, trackbacks are dying this morning, but of course, I had to comment (on my blog, linked above).

    1. Citizen Crain on Jan 2, 2007 5:10:37 PM:

      I'll take your thoughts with tongue firmly planted in cheek, Alan. ;)

      Still, if there is a pattern, my guess is that's nothing so mysterious as "opposites attract." It should be no great surprise that gay Americans who grew up in whitebread, Republican families might find themselves attracted to those from a different culture, appearance etc. And I think the same goes for many Latino gay men. I have certainly found that having blond hair and blue eyes makes you quite popular with Brazilians!

      I've never before had a Latino boyfriend, but there's no question that one of the things I have enjoyed so much from our relationship is learning about him, his culture, his language and his family.

      And one final tweak for my progressive gay friends in bi-cultural relationships. While I'm not sure about Jim Kolbe, I know that the other three Log Cabin leaders in binational relationships (myself included) all speak our partner's language with relative fluency. The same can't be said for my more liberal friends, including one (you know who you are) who despite incessant ribbing from me, still hasn't learned how to say "I love you" in his partner's native tongue.

    1. Alan on Jan 3, 2007 12:16:17 PM:

      Chris - I am willing to show my ignorance here - is a Brazilian boyfriend technically Latino? I would think as a Portuguese that would not apply since Latino has evolved into a synonym for Hispanic or of Spanish derivation. Am I wrong?

      And BTW Happy 2007. I hope that your relationship gets stronger, deeper and more loving with each day.

    1. Citizen Crain on Jan 3, 2007 12:46:10 PM:

      Well then I'm guilty of ignorance myself. I asked the same question of my boyfriend early on and learned that Brazilians consider themselves Latinos.

      According to Wikipedia, Latino in English means those peoples of Latin American origin who speak languages of Latin origin (which includes all of South America, since Portuguese is a Latin-derived language very similar to Spanish).

      Hispanic, on the other hand, refers to people of Spanish heritage, and does not include Brazil (even though the Romans referred to the entire Iberian peninsula, including Spain and Portugal, as Hispania).

      And just to confuse you, Spaniards consider themselves "latino" even though they didn't immigrate to the Americas because in Spanish, the word "latino" means of Latin origin.

      Aren't you glad you asked?!

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