Republican state senator John Carona got himself into a bit of hot water with fellow conservatives last week, after he told Dallas Voice senior editor John Wright that he would support several LGBT rights bills during the upcoming legislative session. Those bills would ban employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, offer domestic partner benefits to state university employees, and allow same-sex adoptive parents to have both names on birth certificates. Carona also told Wright he's "evolving" on gay marriage, but added: "Admittedly I'm not there yet. Nor do I believe the district is there yet. But times change and things may change," especially among younger Republicans.
The backlash was immediate, with groups like the Liberty Institute-backed Texas Values accusing the senator of supporting the "top legislative agenda of the homosexual lobby."
Carona is now rushing to clarify to conservative groups like the Texas Pastor Council (TPC) that he's still "pro-family" and that his remarks were reported "out of context."
TPC released a statement Friday, calling themselves sufficiently reassured. Dave Walch, their executive director, writes that Carona "has assured us that he is completely committed to maintaining his record as pro-marriage and pro-family in response to the concerns raised by an article in the Dallas Voice... His comments reported as "evolving" on issues like domestic partner benefits and same sex marriage were not accurately reported in context, according to the Senator in our conversation."
On Sunday Wright released the audio from his interview with Carona on the Voice's Instant Tea blog. It demonstrates pretty clearly that Wright quoted the senator's statements verbatim and with what we'd call quite a bit of context.
At one point, Carona says he employs individuals who "by their own admission are gay" and replies repeatedly, "I would support that" when asked about a non-discrimination bill.
"If you follow my legislative background and my record on all of this... I'm a pretty independent individual," Carona tells Wright a few moments later. "Yes, I'm Republican, and I don't deny or certainly don't apologize for that. But I try to look at each issue and determine how the constituents I represent would want me to vote, but also, you know, what's basically equitable. What's right. In many instances publicly I've gone against the Republican establishment, just because I fundamentally disagreed with the direction they were headed. i don't know that this is or is not such an area, just because i don't know what the entire agenda is at this point."
Carona also said that he "support[s] domestic partnership benefits," adding, "I don't currently offer those benefits in my own company in Texas but I do offer them in California. I choose to do business in states that either promote those benefits strongly or actually mandate such in law." He added that he doesn't offer them in Texas due to the cost.
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We put in a call to Senator Carona's office in Austin and were directed to Barbara Salyers, the senator's legislative director and general counsel.
"We're not making any more comments at this time," she said. She punctuated that with a little chuckle that sounded either rueful or exasperated.
Dave Welch at the Texas Pastor Council added in his release that Carona "stated that he would not propose or support anything legitimizing the GLBT agenda or to undermine the traditional family and marriage. We will take him at his word and expect that position from his in the upcoming 2013 legislative session."
And just in case the senator didn't quite get the message, Welch adds that TPC "plan[s] to coordinate a team of pastors in his district to meet with him for ongoing dialogue."