Thompson anti-gay vote people’s will, aide says

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 8, 2004

[10/7/04]It was thousands of calls from constituents, not his re-election campaign or personal beliefs, that led U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., to favor a federal constitional ban on gay marriages, his spokesman said.

Thompson’s challenger, Republican nominee Clinton LeSueur of Greenville, said he would have voted for the amendment last week regardless of public opinion.

In the vote tally, Thompson, a Bolton native who has served five two-year terms and is seeking a sixth on Nov. 2, voted with 191 House Republicans and only 35 other Democrats for the measure. It required a two-thirds vote and failed. A motion to consider the measure in the U.S. Senate had been withdrawn.

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Thompson’s vote put all six Mississippi delegates to Congress in the same category favoring an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman only.

Thompson spokesman Lanier Avant said expression of support for the amendment has come “especially in recent months” and led to Thompson’s decision.

Asked about Thompson’s own position on the issue, Avant said it was “irrelevant.”

“As a member of Congress, his job is to make public policy, not to force his personal beliefs on other people,” he said.

Thompson has voted against discrimination against gays previously, including a 1999 vote to allow gay couples in Washington, D.C., to adopt children.

“I support the traditional marriage amendment, and that’s my stance,” said LeSueur, 35, who has made morality and spirituality a cornerstone of his campaign.

LeSueur also cited the 1999 vote, but Avant said that was irrelevant, too.

Attention to the issue escalated when the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled 4-3 in November 2003 to allow gay couples to marry.

That decision followed other federal and state judicial decisions that had challenged the constitutionality of a 1996 federal law, the Defense of Marriage Act, that was signed by then-President Clinton and defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

In Mississippi, where state law now forbids gay marriage, voters will see a proposed amendment to the state Constitution in the Nov. 2 general election.

Louisiana and other states have passed such amendments, although Louisiana’s vote was enjoined by a federal judge Wednesday.

LeSueur, who polled 44 percent of the vote in his challenge to Thompson two years ago, said any suggestion by Thompson that he was only recently learning the opinion of his constituents on the issue was “unbelievable.”

“Now that we have exposed his record through the fliers that we’ve been putting out, he has now all of a sudden made an about-face,” LeSueur said.

A third-party candidate, Shawn O’Hara of the Reform Party, is also in the race to represent the 2nd Congressional District.