May 14, 2011
By Adam Bink
The last two parts consisted of Elizabeth Birch and Al Gore giving their reactions and recollections. Today’s oral history, and final one, is from Rep. Jim Kolbe, a then-closeted Republican Congressman from Arizona, who describes why he thought DOMA was constitutional and just, and how he dealt with being outed afterwards . All excerpts come from and are credited to Making Gay History by Eric Marcus. Kolbe:
It was [The Advocate’s] Josh Moss. He said he was working on a story on the DOMA vote and why different members of the House voted the way they did. Why homophobic people like [conservative California Congressman] Bob Dornan voted they way he did. Why openly gay people like Barney Frank voted the way they did. And why a closeted gay like Jim Kolbe voted the way he did.
The Defense of Marriage Act was legislation that came on the heels — or rather, on the wave in front — of the talk that Hawaii might adopt legislation legalizing gay marriages…
When the legislation came up, I knew there would be some backlash no matter how I voted. If I voted against DOMA there would clearly be the Bob Dornans of the world who would say, “See what he did!” Even before this, Bob Dornan was becoming more extreme in some of his statements on the floor about how he was going to expose people. He never did it by name, but behind the scenes he told some people he was going to do it.
And if I voted for DOMA I knew there would be a very politically active element of the gay community that would say,” Aha! We know who Jim Kolbe is and we know what he really is. And look what he’s done.”
So I just decided that I was not going to be swayed by those things. I would just cast my vote on what I thought is the right thing.
I felt on a states’ rights issue it was justified. The Tenth Amendment of the Constitution requires that each state give full faith and credit to the laws of other states. But there’s a provision that’s been long held by the Supreme Court that when one state passes legislation which is fundamentally at odds with the value system of another state, they do not have to do so.
The one that I always use as the best analogy is if Utah were to pass legislation tomorrow legalizing polygamous marriages, Arizona does not have to recognize those marriages. And I thought in the same way here that if a state were to recognize gay marriage — and I would always defend the right of that state to recognize gay marriage — I don’t think another state has to accept that position.
Well, after I cast my vote they really started drumming things up on the Internet about how we’re going to go after these people. They were saying, “We cannot tolerate this kind of thing. We know this person is gay. Get Jim Kolbe and out him.” … It was at this point that Josh Moss from The Advocate first called me.
…I went over and met with Josh. And we went ’round and ’round again for another forty-five minutes. “Why don’t you just let me do it? I’ll do it in a sensitive way. You know we’re going to make this a good story.” And I said, “Josh, in my opinion, that’s the wrong thing for gay people to do — to be outing each other. We talk about our privacy, yet we turn around when it’s convenient and use it against our own people. That’s a decision individuals have to make when the time is right.”
Finally, at the end of the conversation, he says, “I have to tell you we’re going to go ahead with the story.” I think he was a little uncomfortable and that his editors were pushing him, saying, “If you don’t write the story, we’re going to get somebody else that’s going to write this story.” And I have to think that Josh was probably as compassionate and sensitive a person as could have written the article.
I came back to my office and by that time everybody had left. My office was dark and I just sat there for an hour thinking about how I was going to handle this thing. I knew The Advocate story was three weeks away, so I had lots of time. And then I started making up lists of people I needed to talk to. I decided I wasn’t going to let The Advocate be the one to make the first announcement.
Rep. Kolbe came out to his friends and colleagues with, as he described it, much success. He was re-elected to the House in 1996. But his vote on DOMA stood.