Last edited: December 05, 2004

Kirk, Cornyn Differ on Issues Facing Gays

Rivals Split on what Federal Law Should Cover

Dallas Morning News, September 14, 2002
Box 655237, Dallas, TX 75265
Fax: 972-263-0456

By Gromer Jeffers Jr.

Texasí major candidates for the Senate are split on legislation that would make violence prompted by victimsí sexual orientation a federal crime.

Republican John Cornyn opposes it, and Democrat Ron Kirk supports it.

They also are at odds about whether the federal government should prohibit workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation. Mr. Cornyn opposes such a law, and Mr. Kirk supports it.

On another issue, Mr. Cornyn said he supports the stateís century-old sodomy law that bars gay sex. Mr. Kirkís campaign manager said the former Dallas mayor had no opinion on the law, saying he believes that "itís a matter best left up to the state."

Both candidates say more funding is needed for prevention and treatment programs to halt the spread of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

The candidates were asked their views on law enforcement, workplace rules and other issues facing gays and lesbians because Mr. Kirk speaks Saturday to the DFW Federal Club, which is affiliated with the Human Rights Campaign, a national gay lobby.

Mr. Cornyn, the state attorney general, is scheduled to meet Saturday with a group of Boy Scouts in San Antonio.

The Human Rights Campaign, which says it is the largest gay and lesbian political organization in the country, endorsed Mr. Kirk in June.

David Smith, a spokesman for the group, said that despite Mr. Kirkís opposition to some issues pursued by the group, "he supports treating all people fairly, including gay people. We focused on our core issues, such as banning workplace discrimination and working to combat hate violence in looking at this endorsement of Mr. Kirk."

The group has endorsed 18 Senate candidates nationally in this yearís campaign, 16 Democrats and two Republicans, and has promised to help make donations and get out the vote in November.

"We hope that our support for candidates like Ron Kirk will help lead to victory so that they can make Capitol Hill a more fair-minded place," said Winnie Stachelberg, political director for the Human Rights Campaign.

Asked about his approach to gay-rights issues, Mr. Cornyn responded in a written statement: "Every human being should be treated with dignity and respect. I oppose discrimination and believe the way to make progress in this area is by changing the hearts and minds of individuals."

Previous bill failed

On the issues, Mr. Kirk favors legislation to make federal offenses of crimes motivated by gender, sexual orientation or disability.

In June, Senate Republicans blocked action on a bill to do that. The legislation would allow federal prosecutors to pursue, as a hate-crimes case, an assault upon a person or group because of sexual orientation or disabilities if state officials decide against filing charges.

Current federal law covers crimes based on race, color, religion or national origin. That law grew out of the reluctance of many local jurisdictions in the South to prosecute crimes against minorities.

Backers say gays and lesbians, as well as the disabled, deserve the same protection, and they vowed to try to bring up the measure later this year. Opponents argued that the bill is an unconstitutional power grab by the federal government.

Mr. Kirk also has promised to co-sponsor a bill that would give local law enforcement officials more resources to combat hate crimes. He also has vowed to co-sponsor legislation that would prohibit workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation.

"He believes employees should be judged on the quality of their work," said his campaign manger, Carol Butler.

Stateís sodomy law

Mr. Cornyn is against an anti-hate crimes bill, said his spokesman, Dave Beckwith. "The current law is sufficient," Mr. Beckwith said.

For that reason, Mr. Beckwith said, Mr. Cornyn sees no need for a federal ban on workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Mr. Cornyn said he supports the stateís sodomy law, which makes it a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $500, to have sexual relations with someone of the same sex.

Gay-rights groups say the law is discriminatory and have sought for years to overturn it in the Legislature and the courts. While a Texas Supreme Court justice, Mr. Cornyn voted to throw out lower-court decisions that had declared the stateís law unconstitutional.

Ms. Butler said Mr. Kirk considers it a state issue and did not say whether he favors or opposes it.

Both candidates said they support more funding in the fight against AIDS.

Mr. Kirkís campaign did not provide specifics. Mr. Cornyn, in his statement, said he supports a Bush administration proposal to double funding for the National Institutes of Health in hopes of finding a cure for the disease.

"I also support administration plans for expansion of community health clinics and substance abuse treatment," Mr. Cornyn said.

Mr. Cornyn and Mr. Kirk also agree with the current "donít ask, donít tell" policy relating to gays serving in the military. Under the policy, military commanders are not to ask about service membersí sexual orientation, nor are the service members supposed to make it known.

"He supports the current policy, especially in time of war," Ms. Butler said of Mr. Kirk.

Mr. Cornyn agreed, adding: "Military decisions should be left to commanders."

On other subjects, the candidates did not make clear all of their views, including:

  • Whether gays and lesbians should be allowed to adopt children. Mr. Kirk said itís a decision that should be left up to states. Mr. Cornyn said, "The goal should be for every child to have a father and mother who are married." The Cornyn campaign would not elaborate on his statement.
  • Whether same-sex couples should be allowed to set up a domestic partnership registry. Mr. Cornyn said he opposes that; Mr. Kirkís campaign did not provide an answer.

Kirk endorsement

As for the gay-rights groupís endorsement, the Kirk campaign did not publicize it when it was made this summer, nor did a press aide on Monday mention Mr. Kirkís upcoming speech at the groupís luncheon or list it on a tentative weekly schedule he sent to reporters that evening.

Earlier Monday, the group separately had sent its own news release about the Kirk endorsement and speech, and Michael Spann, one of the eventís organizers, said later that Mr. Kirk in April confirmed his attendance at the luncheon.

Ms. Butler said the initial media schedule was incomplete because other events that day were being finalized. She said it would be "crazy and unfair" to suggest that the Kirk campaign had tried to keep his appearance private.

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