S.C. Republican rubbed ‘salt in the wound’ when he repeated comments from 2004 saying gays shouldn’t be teachers, Carey says
MEG KINNARD | Associated Press
COLUMBIA, S.C. — National gay and women’s rights groups on Tuesday, Oct. 5, called on U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint to apologize for referencing his own six-year-old comments that gays and lesbians and some unmarried pregnant women should not be teaching in the state’s public schools.
“It is salt in the wound in our community,” said Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. “It’s irresponsible for Sen. DeMint to reassert this position in this day and age. I would ask him to apologize.”
Carey was reacting to DeMint’s remarks at an Oct. 1 appearance at a Spartanburg rally, where the Republican referenced the public backlash and quiet support that followed his 2004 comments that gays and lesbians and unmarried pregnant women with live-in boyfriends should not be teaching in the state’s public schools.
“No one came to my defense. But everyone would come to me and whisper that I shouldn’t back down,” DeMint said at the Greater Freedom Rally, according to a published report in the Herald-Journal of Spartanburg. “They don’t want government purging their rights and their freedom of religion.”
DeMint first addressed the issue in October 2004 during a televised debate with state Education Superintendent Inez Tenenbaum weeks before the election to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Ernest “Fritz” Hollings, D-S.C. The candidates were questioned about a state Republican Party platform item saying gays should not teach in public schools.
“I don’t think they should,” DeMint said then, adding that government should not endorse particular behaviors.
“We need the folks that are teaching in schools to represent our values.”
Tenenbaum replied by calling that stance “un-American.”
Gay groups demanded an apology from DeMint, then a third-term congressman. During an interview with the Aiken Standard newspaper two days after the debate, DeMint expanded the list of people whom he thought should not teach in public schools.
“I would have given the same answer when asked if a single woman, who was pregnant and living with her boyfriend, should be hired to teach my third grade children,” said DeMint, who apologized a day later for that particular remark. “I just think the moral decisions are different with a teacher.”
Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women, said the comments underscore the importance of the coming midterm elections.
“Sen. DeMint is a bigot and a sexist and he doesn’t belong in the U.S. Senate,” O’Neill said. “Being conservative is one thing. Being hate-filled is different. Jim DeMint is hate.”
On Tuesday, a DeMint spokesman said the Republican senator on Oct. 1 was merely making a point about attacks on people who speak out on morality issues.
“Senator DeMint believes that hiring decisions at local schools are a local school board issue, not a federal issue,” spokesman Wesley Denton said. “He was making a point about how the media attacks people for holding a moral opinion.”
One of DeMint’s general election opponents said DeMint, who has spent months campaigning for tea party-leaning candidates in other states in the run-up to the Nov. 2 elections, is referencing the comments to cater to far right-leaning voters.
“I consider his remarks as outrageous and out of step with the majority thinking in this state,” said Tom Clements, an anti-nuclear activist and Green Party candidate. “Everything he says is very much calculated to appeal to a certain audience. … He’s feeling his oats right now, and he thinks he can get away with saying outrageous things that he thinks will resonate with the public.”
An adviser to Democratic nominee Alvin Greene would not weigh in on DeMint’s comments, and instead reiterated Greene’s commitment to rejuvenating the state’s education system, in part through an affiliation with the Department of Homeland Security.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 08, 2010.