Some gay rights groups want an apology from U.S. Senate candidate Jim DeMint of South Carolina, who said during a debate that openly gay men and women should not be teaching in the state's public schools. "I don't think they should," DeMint, a Republican, said during Sunday's debate with Democratic opponent Inez Tenenbaum.
DeMint, a third-term congressman, said during the debate that government should not endorse particular behaviors. "We need the folks that are teaching in schools to represent our values," he said.
One request for an apology came from the Log Cabin Republicans, a national organization of gay conservatives. "At a minimum, he should issue a formal apology for the comment," said former
Charleston County prosecutor David Schwacke, who leads the Charleston chapter of the Log Cabin group, which has about 50 members.
Schwacke said DeMint's stance contradicts that held by former president Ronald Reagan, who as governor of California in 1977 spoke out against a ballot initiative that would have outlawed hiring gay teachers in the state.
During the Sunday debate at the College of Charleston, DeMint agreed with the state GOP platform that openly gay men and women should not be allowed to teach in public schools. The debate comment came a week after a DeMint staffer was reprimanded for using a slur about lesbians in an e-mail.
Warren Redman-Gress, executive director of the Alliance for Full Acceptance in Charleston, said DeMint's debate comments are alarming because DeMint is looking for conservative votes. "I really think it's another example of pitting people against one another," he said.
During the debate, Tenenbaum called DeMint's comments "un-American." But the DeMint campaign said the candidate stands by his beliefs and that there would be no apology. DeMint, if elected, does not plan to work for a ban on hiring openly gay teachers, said campaign spokesman Geoff Embler. "He was asked his personal opinion, and he gave it," Embler said. But Schwacke said he does not now know whether he could vote for DeMint next month. "It makes it difficult to pull that lever," he said.