Smith apologizes for comment linking polygamy, gay marriage
by Harry Esteve, The Oregonian
Sen. Gordon Smith issued a strong apology today for remarks he made last week that some interpreted as a defense of polygamy and others took as equating polygamy with same-sex marriage.
At a gay rights panel discussion last week, Smith said his Mormon ancestors "were literally driven from the United States in the dead of winter for following their religious beliefs." The comments came in response to a question about Smith's support for a federal amendment to prohibit gay marriage.
In an interview with The Oregonian today, Smith said he remains staunch in his belief that marriage should be between one man and one woman. But he said he regrets bringing up his Mormon past.
"My remarks referenced a point in time when a few of my ancestors were persecuted for not adhering to that belief," Smith said. "It was an unfortunate reference, and I apologize for making it."
Smith, a Republican who is running for re-election, has worked hard to maintain good relations with the gay and lesbian community, including sponsoring a hate-crimes bill that covers attacks against homosexuals. He also supports Oregon's civil union law, and he favors broader rights for domestic partners.
But his earlier comments, which came during a panel discussion at the Center for American Progress, caused a ruckus among gays and lesbians.
"Talking about polygamy and same-sex unions in the same breath -- on the face it's offensive," said Frank Dixon, a Democratic Party and gay rights activist. "Maybe he can explain his way out of it."
Smith sought to do just that. Asked why he brought up his religious past, he offered this explanation:
"If you'd grown up a Mormon, and spent your life trying to get out from the shadow of that legacy -- it's an emotional scar that you carry. I meant no offense by sharing that part of my history."
He said he never meant to relate polygamy -- practiced by early Mormons but now rejected by the church -- to same-sex marriage.
"The fact of the matter is, I've been a leader in the Senate in the fight for equality for gays and lesbians," Smith said.