Harold Ford Jr. Sells Some Snake Oil on Marriage Equality

The New York Times published an extensive interview with potential New York Senate candidate Harold Ford Jr. which includes discussion of his anti-gay votes on marriage, and his recent sudden announcement that he changed his mind and is a supporter:

Ford Q. Let’s talk about gay marriage. You know your
record very well, but to quickly remind you, you voted to ban same sex
marriage, with the Federal Marriage Amendment, twice.

A. I can say up until 2003, most organizations and national
organization that had an office in Washington dedicated to fighting for
equality for Americans, I enjoyed broad support and big support from
them. The marriage votes drove my ratings down considerably, and
arguably rightly so. I have been a supporter of civil unions. My
opponent raised the issue on the campaign trail in Tennessee.

As the presidential race unfolded, one of the things I recognized during the campaign: My position on same-sex marriage
resembles President Obama’s over the years. Frankly, up until maybe a
year ago, that of the senior senator in the state, Senator Schumer, who
was opposed to same-sex marriage.

Q. Where are you now?

I am for gay marriage. Or same-sex marriage. I don’t want to say it the
wrong way. I think people are sensitive to it. I have been painted as
being this right-wing zealot on choice. Nothing could be further from
the truth. I think there are legitimate questions around my support for

Q. Let’s focus on your two votes to ban same-sex marriage. Can you explain that? Walk me through that.

The last three years, think about what has transpired. How many states
have either courts and or legislatures that have declared same-sex
marriage is acceptable in their states? There has been a robust debate.

don’t think it’s a great leap to go from civil unions to gay marriage —
I may be in the minority in believing that. But I don’t think there is.
Long before I arrived in New York, my commitment to issues of fairness
and equality are clear and obvious and unmistakable. And in light of
that, and consistent with that, according the same rights that a couple
were married, versus the rights provided by civil unions, I don’t
believe the difference is that great. I understand that in certain
communities it’s not viewed on equal footing. But my change, or my
maturation to that point….

Q. What changed for you?

Understand, I did not start at zero and get to 10. I started at 8. This
is my point: I think some of the press accounts of my record have been
distorted or just been wrong. People make it sound as if — let’s go
back to the votes in the Congress.

Q. Do you regret those votes, then?

I have been in politics for 14 years. I was elected back in 1996 …
over the 14 years, have I learned and have I listened? Absolutely.
Understand, Michael, I did not go from zero to 10. I was for civil
unions and believed strongly that the flow of benefits and protections
that would be provided in a civil union for same-sex couples, the
decisions that have to be made, when health hardships are faced, when
economic hardships are faced, I wanted all of those protections. I
never strayed from them. It was just the issue of marriage, that
particularly over the last three years, I have come to understand

Started at 8? Imho, the federal marriage amendment votes put him back at zero.

He also knows the five boroughs of New York City because he briefly landed in them by helicopter.


  1. Rowan says

    Wow, the NY Times were really soft on him! And I love how they didn’t bring him up on how he is NOTHING like Obama.

    Obama was actually pro gay marriage and than went back against it because he was trying to be PRESIDENT.

    Now the NYT are in bed with him.


  2. Astro Boy says

    He is so full of shit. I’ll hold off with the carpetbagger remark because I voted for Hillary twice for Senate and for President.

    Hillary (IMO) understood the state of NY and the issues. Hell, even my upstate parents voted for her and felt she did a good job for the state.

    Ford is a jerk. I sure as hell won’t vote for him.

    Kirsten has my vote. She may not have the “star power” of Hillary, but so far I think she’s done a good job.

  3. TomH says

    The problem is, when he says, “My position on same-sex marriage resembles President Obama’s over the years. Frankly, up until maybe a year ago, that of the senior senator in the state, Senator Schumer, who was opposed to same-sex marriage”–he’s right.

    I continue to be annoyed at the president for providing him cover on this.

    If only Obama had NEVER said the words, “When you put God into the equation…”

    Because of those words, Obama can NEVER support gay marriage without seeming to compromise his religious principles.

    Harold Ford, with all his sliminess, has more credibility here than Barack Obama.

  4. Griff says

    Maybe Harry and I can get our nails done together! He also talked about getting pedicures in the interview. He’s also rsther handsome.

  5. Rafael says

    Wont we ever learn? The last thing we need is another blue dog democrat in Congress. Where is a democratic version of “The Club for Growth” when you need one? With civil rights, climate change and health care pending, there is too much at stake to dilute from our mission.

    Mr. Ford is not a person of principle. Leaning on the President, Institutions and what is popular says all I need to know about his character.

  6. sunset10086 says

    Again, if you have the opportunity to reference this wonderful journal: Please read “Blacks Lack Standing on Marriage Question” in the November-December 2009 issue of The Gay & Lesbian Review. Very interesting.

  7. Patric says

    Couldn’t agree more that Ford’s assignment of an “8” grade to himself on LGBT issues over his career in Congress is laughable. I’d say that elected officials like Senators Harkin and Dodd are individuals who moved from an “8” to a “10” this past year when they announced their support for marriage equality. Though they voted for DOMA in 1996 (unlike more courageous individuals, albeit from bluer states, like Senator John Kerry), their records had otherwise been consistently good on LGBT issues. As you point out, it is ridiculous to suggest that someone who was endorsing anti-gay constitutional amendments and decrying the New Jersey Supreme Court decision which led to civil unions in that State as late as 2006, and who does not otherwise have a record of supporting LGBT-friendly legislation as did Senators Harkin and Dodd, deserved an “8”!

    I do have one quibble with you, though. While you have been very aggressive in going after Ford and have, appropriately in my view, repeatedly used the label “anti-gay” to describe him and his record, you refrained from using any similar label in your post yesterday on Republican Senate candidate Scott Brown in Massachusetts. Considering the comments about another gay legislator and her family previously made by Brown and considering the very different political climates presented by Massachusetts and Tennessee, I’d say that Brown’s record is far more deserving of the label “anti-gay” than even that of Ford.

    TOMH, Ford is at best overstating his case when he contends that his position on marriage equality “resembles” those of the President and Schumer over the years and the interviewer should have called him on this. I am not interested in defending the President’s position on marriage and am even less interested in defending Schumer’s (Schumer having indefensibly voted for DOMA in 1996) but facts are facts and neither the President nor Schumer has ever supported enshrining anti-gay discrimination in the federal or a state constitution, as Ford has as recently as 2006.

    I also disagree with you that President Obama can never support marriage equality now that he articulated his position with a reference to religious beliefs. While I agree that those who articulate their unwillingness to embrace marriage equality by saying that the country is just not yet ready for equality yet, like Governor Richardson in the 2008 campaign, are less offensive than those who articulate their opposition to equality by citing morality, I note that Bill Clinton is one who always used morality to defend his anti-equality position and now he’s on our side. Sure, he’s no longer running for office but it is polls which will move most of these politicians and those polls will continue to move in our favor in the next few years.

  8. Grey says

    When he says, “My position on same-sex marriage resembles President Obama’s over the years,” that’s total bullshit. Because while while way too many Democrats supported DOMA, most of them, including Obama, opposed the far more eggregious Federal Marriage Amendment. Supporting that, especially when most of your own party opposed it (and thus provided you with political cover), is unforgivable.

  9. erik says

    I’m done with supporting people who’s positions have “evolved” over the years. If you were so fucking stupid that you believed DOMA was a good idea, you’re still stupid today. Ford made a choice based not on what was the right thing to do but instead what was best for his political career. Kiss my gay ass, Ford, I’ll keep shopping for someone who has supported us from Day One!

  10. bored lawyer says

    what pisses me off most is that now i have to support gillibrand, if for no other reason than to keep this douche out of office.

  11. MiddleOfTheRoader says

    OK, so Ford had a terrible — outrageous — record on gay marriage; and on other gay issues he was never out front, and sometimes hostile. I have never liked him, or his positions on many issues. Indeed, his changed position on gay issues is probably, if not certainly, due 100% to politics — and maybe he’ll change again and find ways to be against us. And he will probably get very, very little gay support if he runs in NY, or in any state with a large gay electorate.

    BUT —- don’t totally trash the guy in such a pernicious, personal way that you give him yet another reason to retreat from or re-examine what he says is his new position. Let him speak to conservative Dems (yes, there are such people), to Southerners (yes, he’s still a Southerner, despite living in NYC), to African-Americans and other minorities (yes, there is still too much anti-gay marriage sentiment in many minority communities), and to bigots — and let him explain to them why they should support gay marriage and why he changed his views. For those of you who really want to win this battle, PLEASE have a broader, long-term outlook. Criticize but then his “rationalizations” for why he changed his position, and then use him to proselytize others on the issue. Unless enough people (including Ford) who were once “enemies” of gay marriage change their minds — for whatever selfish reasons (getting elected? attracting income to their businesses? getting along with their neighbors?) — we are going to be waiting a long, long, long time for all gay Americans to have this right.w

  12. Chitown Kev says

    One thing about Obama, he has ALWAYS campaigned as an opponent of DOMA, even dutring his state Senate run in 1996 (when he was for marriage equality), during his Senate run in 2004, and as a Presidential candidate. For the record, he is also against Constittional amendments that limit rights, including same-sex marriage. And Obama voted against FMA.

    And Ford voted against ENDA as well. Obama supports ENDA and watered-carried a t-inclusive ENDA in the Illinois General Assembly.

    Ford’s record on GLBT issues is nothing like Obama’s (not saying that Obama’s is great…)

    Don’t fall for his bullshit. This man will use you.

  13. John says

    As I have said before, I am no fan of Harold Ford Jr. and find him politically cynical in the worst way.

    However, I will give him credit for being smart. He’s responding, in a very savvy manner, to the criticism that this is a sudden and inexplicable change. And while I do not believe his sincerity today anymore than I did yesterday, his oratorical skills are quite evident in this interview.

  14. AlexInBoston says

    Ford opens his mouth and for some odd reason all i hear is Blah Blah Blah Blah!! Same shit just a different day!

  15. MickW says

    I hope Ford runs and wins, he can pal around with Republican Scott Brown since you all seem to like him so much.

  16. PIERRE says

    While my thoughts are most closely aligned with Middleoftheroader’s on this–never a Ford fan, there’s a likely chance this is a very calculated and merely strategic “evolution”–one thing that has yet to be mentioned is really what catches me by surprise, and it’s that being vocally pro-gay marriage just in order to be competitive on a Democratic Senate ticket in New York state is a real sea change. Hillary Clinton, for all her support and alliance to the LGBT community, was not. Schumer is a recent convert, and Gillibrand is on board her first time at bat, so let’s not minimize this very new development in a state whose own senate recently failed to pass a marriage equality law thanks in part to several Democratic holdouts. The bottom line is that we need people willing to tell their potential constituents that marriage equality is a fair and necessary step that needs to be taken, and every person who says so advances the cause one way or another–even just by forcing his opponent to also be firm on the issue.

    The bottom line is also that if we declined support from everyone who previously opposed same-sex marriage, it would unequivocally NEVER become a reality. The DOMA and ENDA positions are reprehensible, but again, if we declined to align with any politician who voted for DOMA, where exactly WOULD we be in 2010?

    Even though I am highly suspicious of Ford’s motives for his “enlightenment,” it is absolutely worth noting, especially in light of arguments being made in the Prop 8 case, that in 2008 Ford married a white woman. It is entirely possible that the thought has crossed his mind that there was a time he would not have legally been able to do so in many parts of the country, especially in the southern state from which he hails. Is it likely that factors in his new rhetoric? Nobody knows for sure except for Harold Ford, Jr. For the moment, take what he’s said this past week and use it to put his feet to the fire. Make him prove himself on this before the primary, and should he get the nomination, before the general election and beyond the simple step of a “yes” vote should a bill ever come to the floor. Take him at face value for the moment and make him truly, uncomfortably understand what’s at stake for us by increasing our visibility, our problems and our dreams to him. Let’s continue this conversation if he doesn’t come through then.

  17. Rowan says

    I’m shocked but I’m not shocked by the amount of Ford’s PR fluff working their way on gay blogs.

    It’s all about money.

    Ford has money. He has Bloomberg. He is powerful and can lie to you.

    Oh well New York….maybe being an amazing liberal creativ hub was too much for you and you need to become more conservtive.

    You’re tourism will decrease though. Money.

  18. Patric says

    Pierre, I don’t believe that anyone here is suggesting that we decline support from everyone who has previously opposed marriage equality. No doubt if we could get a pro-civil unions, anti-FMA candidate elected in Nebraska or Tennessee, many of us would take that in a heartbeat without demanding purity on marriage equality.

    This is not Nebraska or Tennessee, though, and we should expect more from the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate than someone who has so recently pandered to anti-gay bigotry by supporting constitutional bans on equality for gay and lesbian people. I am not interested in defending Hillary Clinton’s position on marriage equality in her prior races because I criticized them then and I did not support her in the 2008 primaries and because her position was clearly designed to appeal to voters nationwide in the presidential contest. I am certainly not interested in defending Schumer, either, as I have never voted for him and am not a fan (though I appreciate his talents in getting Dems elected). I do note, though, that neither Secretary Clinton nor Schumer has ever supported enshrining discrimination against gay people in a state or federal constitution, as Ford consistently did until quite recently (this past weekend?).

    Nate Silver at 538.com nicely summarizes the problems with Ford. http://www.fivethirtyeight.com/2010/01/please-dont-run-harold.html Not least among them is that this is all about what’s best for Harold Ford without any regard to what’s good for Dems in an election year where our resources are already going to be stretched fighting many difficult races around the country. Now you may conclude that his self-interested behavior hardly distinguishes him from other pols but I find it obnoxious.

  19. says

    I’m pissed that he hasn’t seen gays as equal people back when he was in Tennessee — regarding marriage, employment discrimination, etc — but I am glad that he’s finally for equal recognition of gay people’s relationships today. However, there is no way to know if he’s being real, if he’ll just change his mind again, since he’s done it before. What we need is evidence beyond just his talk. He should be actively trying to reverse the problems he helped create. Instead of just saying he’s pro-marriage now (finally), he could be trying to convince other Americans of this position. He could apologize for the harms he promoted in Tennessee and elsewhere, and try to right those mistakes. His true test of character is if and how he can accomplish that, *before* anyone gives him a seat in New York. At least Sen. Gillenbrand has fought a bit *for* gays, fought for true equality and family values, with what sway she has, speaking to the public and using her votes. Let’s see something similar from Ford. He should go to the masses to help promote equality directly, and then he can get a positive response.

  20. jcflondon says

    The question is whom to support – Ford or Gillibrand.

    Ford supported not only DOMA but also an Amendment to the Constitution to outlaw Gay Marriage. It would be the only amendment to our constitution to limit rights of any group of US citizens.

    Or Gillibrand – one of the first members of the U.S. Senate to favor full marriage equality and the first from New York State. Gillibrand is also working on an repealing the Defense of Marriage Act, protecting people of all sexual orientations from hate crimes and employment discrimination, and eliminating the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in our armed forces.

    We have a current US Senator who is one of the most active and vocal supports of Gay Rights in the US. Why would we replace her with some who voted to amend the US Constitution to make us second class citizens?

    I’m all in favor of Ford learning and changing his views which support Gay Rights – but it’s too late for him to be elected Senator from NY. Support the Senator who is already working for our rights.

  21. Lonnie says

    All this shows is that Democrats will say absolutely anything to get elected. We all know Obama the fucker did.

  22. Jon says

    Since Harold Ford, Jr has ‘come out’ for equal rights of New Yorkers, I’ll be looking forward to his apologies to all the Tennessee GLBT community for the harm he did to us while campaigning in 2006. It’s an interesting ‘choice’ he is making. I’m sure there will be some Craig stories that you really should pay attention to.