Sunday, June 08, 2008

The Evolution of Bob Barr

Southern Voice, a gay weekly published by the same company that also publishes the Washington Blade, has a long article about Libertarian presidential candidate Bob Barr and how (and why) his positions on gay issues have changed over the years (hat tip to Austin Cassidy's Independent Political Report).

I have noted in the past how Barr has changed his positions on the military's ban on gay servicemembers and his opposition to a federal constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage. Southern Voice highlights these issues in its article.

What's most interesting to me is how Barr explains that it was conversations with members of Outright Libertarians, a partisan group of gay libertarians, that helped him refine (and change) his views on issues of importance to gay and lesbian voters. Southern Voice reports:

Bob Barr sponsored the Defense of Marriage Act when he served in Congress as a Republican representing Georgia’s 7th District. Now running for president as a Libertarian, Barr advocates repealing part of the law.

In a June 2 interview with Southern Voice, Barr, who served in Congress from 1995-2003, delineated between two sections of DOMA: a full faith and credit clause that protects the rights of each state to implement its own definition of marriage, and a section that defines marriage as only between one man and one woman under federal law.

“This [second part] was intended to apply to federal programs, such as survivor benefits, Social Security [and others],” he said.

Barr said it is the second part of DOMA he would work to repeal if elected president.

“Over the years and over the last year since I’ve been more active in the Libertarian Party, I’ve talked with a number of individuals, including members of Outright Libertarians [a gay Libertarian group], and have come to view the second part as having been used as a club, or the tail wagging the dog,” Barr said. “It has become in effect a national definition of marriage. This is not what I intended.”
The article continues:
Doyle Jones, a member of Outright Libertarians living in Tucker, plans to vote for Barr for president and said he believes Barr’s reversal on DOMA is “sincere.”

“I think Outright Libertarians have influenced him,” Jones said.

Rob Power, chairperson of Outright Libertarians, said while pleased with Barr’s change of heart on DOMA, he was disappointed to hear Barr wants to repeal only part of the law.

But Power, who lives in San Francisco, does believe Barr has “evolved” on the issue. Barr first talked with Outright Libertarians at last year’s Conservative Leadership Conference in Reno, Nev. While Power was not at the conference, he worked with fellow Libertarians on devising a strategy to convince Barr he was wrong on DOMA by stressing to him the law was an attack on federalism, or state’s rights.

After a conversation with current Outright Libertarian secretary Brian Miller at that conference, Barr essentially reversed his position on DOMA, Power said.
While Barr does not yet think gay marriage is a good idea, he is open to both civil unions and permitting gay couples to adopt children:
Barr also told Southern Voice this week he now believes in civil unions and that gay couples deserve legal benefits and rights.

He supports gay people adopting, saying he has seen “plenty of heterosexual people adopt that shouldn’t have.”
Barr shares the position of many libertarians -- including me -- of opposing federal employment non-discrimination laws and hate-crimes laws:
And in line with the Libertarian Party, Barr, a former federal prosecutor, opposes hate crimes legislation, saying such a law “actually makes cases harder to prosecute.”

He also does not support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would ban job bias based on sexual orientation, again citing the need for less governmental interference.
Barr's biggest break with conservatives may come in his opposition to DADT:
But Barr advocates dumping the federal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy prohibiting gay service members from serving openly. He said this week the firing of gay Arabic linguists, for example, is a threat to national security.

In a June 2007 op-ed piece for the Wall Street Journal titled “Don’t Ask, Who Cares,” Barr wrote, “As a conservative Republican member of Congress from 1995 to 2003, I was hardly a card-carrying member of the gay-rights lobby. I opposed then, and continue to oppose, same-sex marriage, or the designation of gays as a constitutionally protected minority class,” Barr wrote.

“Service in the armed forces is another matter. The bottom line here is that, with nearly a decade and a half of the hybrid ‘Don't Ask, Don't Tell’ policy to guide us, I have become deeply impressed with the growing weight of credible military opinion which concludes that allowing gays to serve openly in the military does not pose insurmountable problems for the good order and discipline of the services,” he added.
While Bob Barr still has a bit more room to evolve and improve -- it would be nice for him to say that it's a good idea for gay couples to have not just the responsibilities of marriage but also all of the rights and privileges associated with it -- he deserves credit for listening to his erstwhile opponents and coming around to their point of view.

Bob Barr's "conversion" is an example of why libertarians have to be out in the arena, making arguments, trying to change minds. He is also an example of how nobody is a lost cause and why it is important to engage in dialogue even with people with whom we vehemently disagree.

1 comment:

Gary Baumgarten said...

Bob Barr will be my guest on News Talk Online on Friday at 5 PM ET.

You can join in the conversation by following the link from my blog: