Rep. Jim Kolbe of Arizona, a six-term moderate Republican, said Friday he is gay, preempting the gay newsmagazine that was about to publish a story disclosing his sexual orientation.
“I felt if they were going to do that, it was time for me to stand up and be counted on this thing,” Kolbe told reporters Friday. “There is some relief; certainly there’s no embarrassment.”
Kolbe said he was making the declaration reluctantly. Jeff Yarbrough, editor in chief of the Advocate, said the magazine believed it was hypocritical of Kolbe to have voted for a GOP-backed measure that seeks to prevent gay marriages by defining marriage in federal law as the union of a man and a woman.
In a statement Friday, Kolbe said he voted for the bill because he believes each state “should be allowed to define marriage” the way it chooses.
Kolbe made his statement at a time when many of his GOP colleagues have been outspoken in their condemnation of homosexuality. Earlier this week, Rep. Steve Gunderson, R-Wis., who had been the only openly gay Republican in Congress, said he would not pursue an effort to win a ninth term because a conservative group planned to make his sexual orientation an issue in the campaign.
In addition, Gunderson said, a fellow GOP lawmaker told him that some House Republicans and some House GOP leaders would oppose his advancement to the chairmanship of the Agriculture Committee, a position he could claim next year if Republicans keep control of the House.
Having an openly gay chairman would make it appear the party was legitimizing homosexuality, Gunderson said he was told.
Before the 1994 election, Gunderson, 45, said he would not seek reelection this fall. But he began to reconsider when the committee chairmanship became a possibility.
“This party has a problem with this,” Gunderson said in an interview Friday. “Some of the rhetoric in our party has created a meanness on both sides. … We all want to find victims and that’s unfortunate.”
Gunderson said much of the problem stems from the vitriolic attacks on gays and homosexuality made by GOP lawmakers during the last month’s debate over the measure opposing same-sex marriages.
Rep. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., for instance, denounced homosexuality as “immoral … based on perversion … based on lust.” Rep. Steve Largent, R-Okla., declared that “no culture that has ever embraced homosexuality has ever survived.”
Gay Republicans predicted Kolbe, 52, a respected voice in the House on free trade and on deficit reduction, would help combat those perceptions of gay men. “When you have their trust on the ideological questions, then you can move on to the other things that had been demonized in the past,” said Richard Tafel, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, a group of gay Republicans.
Friday, Kolbe received gestures of support from many congressional colleagues. “He has always had and will continue to have my full support,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
Two other lawmakers are openly gay, Massachusetts Democratic Reps. Barney Frank and Gerry E. Studds.