Are Sen.-Elect Scott Brown’s Views on Gay Rights Changing?

by Joe Siegel

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday February 1, 2010

Newly elected United States Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts has been an opponent of same-sex marriage while serving as a State Senator.

On January 19, Brown defeated Democrat Martha Coakley in the special election to fill the remaining three years of the U.S. Senate term vacated by the death of Ted Kennedy.

In the 1980s Brown let it all hang out in a nude pictorial for women's mag Cosmo and earned the title of "America's Sexiest Man" from the publication.

Brown's anti-gay history is infamous in a state which was the first in the nation to recognize unions between same-sex couples.

Brown noted it was "unusual" when a lesbian lawmaker raised a baby with her domestic partner. Brown went on to vote for an amendment banning gay marriage.

Another incident was Brown's visit to a high school in his district of Wrentham, where he denounced students who had written unflattering comments about him on Facebook in response to his opposition to gay marriage.

Brown said he believes marriage is between a man and a woman. But he would oppose a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

But how will Brown vote on LGBT issues like repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) when he gets to Washington?

Graham Wilson, a Political Science Professor at Boston University, believes Brown's views on social issues will evolve in time.

"I don't know his stand on (gay marriage) in detail but I do think he will moderate and has shown signs of doing so already," Wilson told EDGE. "Now that he has the Republican nomination, his challenge is to avoid defeat in general elections that will be held in what for him are likely to be less favorable circumstances."

Someone who is familiar with Brown's positions on LGBT issues is Scott Gortikov, the Executive Director of Mass Equality, who said Brown has expressed "consistent opposition to LGBT equality" as a State Senator.

Gortikov does hold out the hope that Brown may be inclined to be more supportive of the LGBT community on certain issues considering the company he will be in.

"He is a junior Senator from a Massachusetts delegation and this is a delegation that has supported issues of equality for a long time," Gortikov said. "(Brown) touts not only his traits of independent thinking but also his conservative credentials. There may be nuances to his thinking when it comes to future votes on LGBT issues."

Gortikov said Brown's views about DOMA could be fascinating because conservatives believe in state's rights, and DOMA interferes with each state's right to determine its own marriage laws.

"We have known what (Brown) has opposed in the past," Gortikov noted. "It is worthwhile for all of us to ask and dialogue with him what he supports in this area. Where is he on immigration issues? Where is he on taxation and inheritance? I think there are nuances to begin to explore with him."

Brown has won the endorsement of at least one gay group, the Log Cabin Republicans, who sent out a press release congratulating Brown on his victory.

"The voters of Massachusetts have sent a clear message to the Democrats in Washington that has been echoed across the country. Americans want bipartisan consensus and commonsense approaches to the critical issues facing our nation today," said LCR National Chairman Terry Hamilton. "The election of Scott Brown to the US Senate gives the GOP the crucial forty-first vote to stand up for market-based reform and fiscal restraint, especially in the healthcare debate."

"We look forward to working with Senator Brown on many critical issues," Hamilton continued, "including market-based healthcare reform, tax relief, supporting the war on terror, workplace non-discrimination, commonsense education reform, and ending the failed 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy."

Only time will tell how much Brown will be "evolving" in his stance about bread-and-butter gay issues. On the other hand, the generally socially liberal Massachusetts electorate may well tell him--if he is as politically savvy as the pundits have it.

Apparently, he got the memo. He has already told an AP reporter that he will vote independently. "Scott Brown says he has already told Senate Republican leaders they won't always be able to count on his vote," Glen Johnson reported.

The GOP leadership is equally realistic about what a senator from Massachusetts can and cannot do. The leadership reportedly told him to vote as he saw fit, with a minimum of party pressure.

On gay issues, it remains to be seen how this will play out. Considering action on ENDA, DOMA and DADT, among other acronyms, he may have to show his hand sooner rather than later.

And on Feb. 1, Brown appeared in a broadcast interview with Barbara Walters in which he drew a pretty clear line in the sand.

"I've always been a big tent person," he told her. "On the marriage issue, it's settled here in Massachusetts."

He went to state that "States should have the ability to control their own destiny and the 'government' should not be interfering with state's rights on issues that they're dealing with on a daily basis."

By "government," presumably he meant the federal government. But the lack of the adjective "federal" may in the end be telling. Was he (consciously or not) sending out a message that the "government" (small "G") has no business determining marriage?

Joe Siegel has written for a number of other GLBT publications, including In newsweekly and Options.