PORTLAND — In about two weeks, retiring congressman and leading gay-rights activist Barney Frank will marry his partner Jim Ready, of Ogunquit, during a private ceremony in Newton, Mass.
After that, Frank says, he’ll work to ensure that same-sex nuptials are legal in Maine.
The Massachusetts Democrat has already participated in fundraising for the campaign to legalize same-sex marriage, but Frank said he plans to become more involved in the effort.
“We’re getting married in Massachusetts this summer,” Frank said during an interview with the Press Herald. “We want to get married in Maine … but it’s not legal.”
Frank’s role in the Maine marriage-equality campaign may be different than his past advocacy efforts in other states. The quick-witted, sharp-tongued congressman could bring star power to Mainers United for Marriage, the group heading the ballot initiative that voters will consider Nov. 13.
But Frank’s caustic oratory style and polarizing past may also conflict with a campaign-messaging strategy designed to convince a majority of Mainers to support gay marriage after they rejected it less than three years ago.
Matt McTighe, the campaign manager for Mainers United for Marriage, said Frank may not have an active public role.
“Certainly in terms of events and outreach to our community, helping the fundraising and mobilizing our base, he’s somebody that people in our community look to,” McTighe said. “People think of him as a smart, dedicated leader who’s been active on this issue longer than most of us.”
McTighe acknowledged that Frank could be a lightning rod for opponents who have been quick to cite the congressman’s politics and his past.
“That’s why he’s not going to be playing a lead role, or a public role, in the campaign,” McTighe said. “We’re not looking to Barney to speak to the voters of Maine. He’s somebody who can help rally the base and talk to a segment of our community that is involved and totally supportive.
“But we’re not looking to him to come in and help influence the campaign or try to influence the outcome of the election.”
Frank announced late in 2011 that he was retiring at the end of his current term. He has been in Congress since 1980 where he developed a reputation as a quick-witted policy wonk on financial and banking matters.
He’s the co-author of the so-called “Dodd-Frank Act”, the 2010 initiative considered one of the most sweeping efforts to introduce regulatory reforms to the financial industry.
In 1987 he announced that he was gay, becoming the first congressman to
voluntarily do so. He’s survived several tough re-election battles, but perhaps none tougher than his 1990 bid.
Shortly before the election a male escort told the Washington Times that Frank’s
former driver, Stephen Gobie, was running a prostitution ring out of Frank’s Washington D.C. apartment.
Frank survived calls to resign and instead admitted his role in the scandal before the House Ethics Committee. Frank’s reputation took a hit, but he remained popular with voters, winning his 1990 election with 66 percent of the vote.
The controversy has since faded. Today he’s considered one of the preeminent voices of the gay rights movement. He said that states’ moves to legalize same-sex marriage is an example of “reality beating myth.”
“I think more and more people see there’s no downside to same-sex marriage to people who don’t want to do it,” he said.
He added, “It’s just become impossible for anybody to argue that it has real-world bad consequences for anybody.”
Carroll Conley is the executive director of the Christian Civic League and the group leading the opposition to gay marriage. Conley also used to live in Frank’s congressional district when he was a headmaster at parochial school between 1981 and 1992.
“Certainly we would disagree with Congressman Frank’s perspective on this issue, but we would honor and respect anyone who has a passion to support any issue,” Conley said.
Conley said the upcoming referendum was a national issue, so it made sense for his opponents to use “local, regional and national resources and assets” like Frank.
“Our disagreement is that we feel that at this time in our country it’s time to promote and to strengthen marriage, not redefine it,” Conley said.
For Frank, 72, his involvement in the campaign is personal and practical.
Earlier this year he announced that he was marrying the 42-year-old Ready, who lives in Ogunquit. The two met in 2007 at a political fundraiser in Maine.
“Look, I have a partner now, Jim Ready,” Frank said during an appearance on the PBS program “The Charlie Rose Show” in January. “I’m in love for the first time in my life.”
Frank said on Tuesday that that he plans to spend more time in Maine after he retires from Congress at the end of the year. The couple own a house in Maine and an apartment in Massachusetts.
Harry Gural, Frank’s spokesman, said the congressman will maintain a primary residence and pay taxes in Massachusetts.
He said he wasn’t sure how he’ll next assist Maine’s same-sex marriage effort, but he plans to be “very involved.”
Frank has already donated $1,000 to the Mainers United for Marriage political action committee. He said he’ll appeal to others to donate.
“We’re getting married in a couple of weeks so we’re taking a little time for ourselves,” he said. “But by the end of August, and in the fall, I’ll be available.”