CNN on Tulsi Gabbard: Some candidates' LGBTQ policy ghosts are more relevant than others

It’s pretty easy to see where the Rep. Tulsi Gabbard story is going for the new CNN.

I think the heart of the story can be expressed this way: Are you now, or have you ever been a … conservative Democrat (or related, by blood, to one)?

Gabbard recently declared that she is one of the legions of Democrats who plan to seek the party’s presidential nomination. She is the first Hindu (a somewhat controversial convert, no less) to take that step.

However, she also created a mini-media storm with an op-ed in The Hill in which (trigger warning) she took an old-school liberal stand on a key religious liberty issue, affirming Article 6 of the U.S. Constitution, which bans any form of “religious test” for those seeking public office.

Yes, we’re talking about the Knights of Columbus wars. Gabbard wrote:

While I oppose the nomination of Brian Buescher to the U.S. District Court in Nebraska, I stand strongly against those who are fomenting religious bigotry, citing as disqualifiers Buescher’s Catholicism and his affiliation with the Knights of Columbus. If Buescher is “unqualified” because of his Catholicism and affiliation with the Knights of Columbus, then President John F. Kennedy, and the 'liberal lion of the Senate' Ted Kennedy would have been “unqualified” for the same reasons.

Wait for it. Here is the language that probably put a millstone around her neck.

No American should be told that his or her public service is unwelcome because “the dogma lives loudly within you” as Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said to Amy Coney Barrett during her confirmation hearings in 2017 to serve as U.S. Circuit Court judge in the 7th Circuit. …

The party that worked so hard to convince people that Catholics and Knights of Columbus like Al Smith and John F. Kennedy could be both good Catholics and good public servants shows an alarming disregard of its own history in making such attacks today.

We must call this out for what it is – religious bigotry.

The reactions were fierce, to say the least.

Sure enough, CNN soon joined the fray with this headline: “Tulsi Gabbard once touted working for anti-gay group that backed conversion therapy.”

It’s hard to know where to start, in terms of digging into the vague language and fact claims in this article. I was going to ignore this PR-style (for her opponents) piece. After all, this is CNN that we’re talking about — one of today’s cultural silos that, 90 percent of the time, primarily exists to preach to its own cable TV-commentary choir.

But pay close attention to the end of this chunk of the overture?

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard in the early 2000s touted working for her father's anti-gay organization, which mobilized to pass a measure against same-sex marriage in Hawaii and promoted controversial conversion therapy.

Gabbard, a Democrat from Hawaii, said Friday in an interview with CNN's Van Jones that she will seek her party's nomination for president in 2020. Her past views and activism in opposition to LGBT rights in the late 90s and early 2000s, which put her out of step with most of the Democratic Party at the time, have come under more intense scrutiny since her announcement.

Now, it’s hard to know precisely what is being said there. However, we should remember that, in 2008, White House candidate Barack Obama was still trying to have it both ways, when discussing gay marriage and related questions. Here he is, answering an MTV question about a California amendment to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman:

"I think it's unnecessary. … I believe marriage is between a man and a woman. I am not in favor of gay marriage. But when you start playing around with constitutions, just to prohibit somebody who cares about another person, it just seems to me that's not what America's about. Usually, our constitutions expand liberties, they don't contract them."

That, of course, was back when Obama needed lots of enthusiastic support in African-American church pews. Later, he evolved.

Gabbard has evolved, too, as the CNN essay admits:

Although Gabbard's positions on LGBT rights have shifted dramatically in more recent years (she signed a 2013 amicus brief supporting Edith Windsor's challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act), the extent of Gabbard's past anti-gay activism has already drawn criticism from prominent Democrats and will likely be a major issue for her as she seeks the party's nomination.

As I heard many Democrats say during my years inside the Beltway, everyone knew that Obama was lying when he affirmed traditional Christian doctrines on marriage — but it was all for the greater good.

The problem appears to be that, because of her family history, Gabbard may have believed, in the past, the words that she was saying. Combine that with the Knights of Columbus statement and, well, it’s possible that she might be in favor of compromises on crucial moral and social issues.

The most important statement, of course, is here:

Listed among Gabbard's past work in the profile by the Honolulu newspaper was her work at The Alliance for Traditional Marriage.

A CNN KFile review of the organization's website, which is archived on the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine, uncovers the organization supported controversial gay conversion therapy, which treats homosexuality as a mental illness that can be fixed.

At this point, the term “gay conversion therapy” is a simplistic journalism curse that no longer needs any kind of background research into what a specific group did or did not teach.

Suffice it to say, there are groups that believe that sexual behaviors can be modified, even though — in decades of covering this issue — I have never met anyone who advocated a “pray the gay away” stance. Most would argue that sexual orientation remains a complex nature-and-nurture mystery (This is Alfred Kinsey Scale territory) and that many people are, to one degree or another, bisexual and can modify their behaviors.

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It is certainly true that Gabbard’s family took conservative stances on a host of LGBTQ-related issues and CNN documents that with all of the enthusiasm that its audience has come to expect.

But here is the question: What does this have to do with Gabbard’s views today? Why are the words in her past so essential to her present, as opposed to those of — let’s say — former Vice President Joe Biden, a Catholic whose moral theology has evolved quite a bit? When did Bill and Hillary Clinton evolve?

Gabbard’s views evolved at roughly the same time as those of Biden and Obama.

In 2012, when running for Congress, Gabbard apologized to LGBT activists in Hawaii for her past comments.

"I want to apologize for statements that I have made in the past that have been very divisive and even disrespectful to those within the LGBT community," Gabbard said. "I know that those comments have been hurtful and I sincerely offer my apology to you and hope that you will accept it."

Since joining Congress in 2013, Gabbard has supported efforts to promote LGBT equality, including co-sponsoring pro-LGBT legislation like The Equality Act, a bill to amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to protect LGBT individuals.

"I grew up in a very kind of conservative household. A multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multi-faith home," Gabbard said in New Hampshire in December, speaking to her shift. "Diverse in our makeup and diverse in our views. And I held views growing up that I no longer hold."

So I am curious here: What is the real story here? This heretic has repented. Right?

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