As Michigan's August 3 primary approaches, a Republican candidate in southern Michigan's seventh district congressional race is threatening to sue two other candidates for implying in their campaign ads that he supports gay marriage. Former state senator John "Joe" Schwarz was deciding Monday whether to go to court to get the ads off the air. A television ad by state representative Gene DeRossett, which features two male figurines on a wedding cake, says Schwarz "is against a ban on gay marriage." A radio ad by former representative Tim Walberg says Schwarz "believes in same-sex unions." "These are the most dishonest, meanest things I have ever seen in a campaign," Schwarz spokesman John Truscott said. Both campaigns say the ads are accurate and that they have no plans to take them off the air.
Schwarz is a surgeon from Battle Creek, Mich., and the only moderate in the six-way race for the GOP nomination. He voted in 1996 for Michigan's Defense of Marriage Act, which banned gay marriage, but he doesn't support amending the U.S. Constitution to ban gay marriage. Schwarz said in 2002 that "same-sex couples deserve basic human rights and equality," but says that doesn't mean he supports civil unions. Instead, he believes companies should be able to extend benefits to gay couples or unmarried heterosexual couples.
Walberg said he was careful about the wording of his ad and doesn't suggest Schwarz supports gay marriage, as DeRossett does. "I separate myself from Gene DeRossett's ad," he said. "I never said Joe
Schwarz supports gay marriage, but he has said he supports civil unions. I don't see much difference except semantics...but I'll let Gene fight that battle." DeRossett said his ad is accurate because Schwarz opposes a constitutional amendment, which is the only way to ensure a nationwide ban. He also pointed out that Schwarz is endorsed by Pride PAC, a Michigan gay rights organization. "Joe Schwarz wants it both ways," DeRossett said.
The three other GOP candidates in the race haven't made gay marriage a central issue in their campaigns, although none support it. Hillsdale County prosecutor Neal Brady, who heads the Hillsdale County Republicans, said social issues such as abortion and gay marriage are extremely important to conservative seventh district voters. The seventh district covers parts of Washtenaw, Lenawee, Hillsdale, Jackson, Branch, Eaton, and Calhoun counties. "All of the Republicans are going to say they're against big government and they want more jobs in the state," Brady said. "They diverge on the social issues, so in order to distinguish them, you have to pick those issues where they diverge."
Brady said DeRossett's ad "is further confirmation of what I believed" about Schwarz, and he plans to vote for one of the more conservative candidates. Jon Williams, a government teacher and head of the Jackson County Republicans, said the gay marriage issue may get some conservative Republicans
to the polls, but others are far more concerned about manufacturing job losses and family farms. "I don't want to sound like it's not an important issue, but there are some other issues going on that are just as important," said Williams, who is backing state representative Clark Bisbee.
Truscott said Schwarz doesn't plan to run any new television ads answering the charges, although in one television ad he comments on the "distorted attacks" on his record. "Heck, I don't even recognize the Joe Schwarz they portray," Schwarz says.