U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, the liberal icon from Massachusetts that has been a powerful voice for progressive issues during his three decades in Congress, plans to marry his longtime partner before his upcoming retirement so his colleagues will be forced to interact with a married gay man.
Frank looked back at his storied career, the rise of gay activism and Congress' obstructive partisanship in an extensive interview published in New York Magazine on Sunday. The 16-term House Democrat plans to retire at the end of his term in 2013, saying his age and congressional redistricting made it too difficult for him to campaign for re-election in 2012. Frank is 72 years old.
Frank joined the U.S. Congress in 1981 after serving 10 years in the Massachusetts state legislature, where he introduced the state's -- and the nation's -- first gay marriage bill, in 1972. Even as he became the state's political gay rights leader, Frank, afraid of being outed, did not publicly comment on his sexuality.
I was 32 years old, I was unmarried, and I figured, well, people are going to think, 'Maybe he's gay.' I just said, f--- it, I would not come out. I could not have a political career and be out. I didn't have a district like Harvey Milk's, I didn't have a large gay constituency, Frank told the magazine, referring to the San Francisco politician who was the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California.
The death of Connecticut Republican congressman Stewart McKinney) of AIDS in 1987, combined with increased media scrutiny about his personal life, inspired Frank to publicly come out as gay that year. While the congressman feared the announcement would be the end of his political career, it had little effect on his electoral prospects.
Frank, who said he and his partner Jim Ready have plans to marry in July, told the magazine that despite his often pessimistic attitude, he believes gay and lesbian Americans will have marriage rights in much of the nation within the next decade, and that he is pleasantly surprised by the progress the movement has made since 40 years ago.
That progress has made it possible for him to become the first member of the U.S. Congress to marry a same-sex partner.
I want to get married. I do think, to be honest, if I was running for reelection I might have tried to put the marriage off until after the election, because it just becomes a complication. But I did want to get married while I was still in office. I think it's important that my colleagues interact with a married gay man, he said.