Candace Gingrich-Jones: Newt Hasn't Changed
BY Julie Bolcer
December 16 2011 3:10 PM ET
When it comes to her brother Newt, Candace Gingrich-Jones might as well be living in 1994 all over again. The lesbian half-sister of the Republican presidential hopeful first spoke out when he ascended to the speakership of the House of Representatives 17 years ago, and now, as his campaign has unexpectedly picked up steam, she marvels at how little has changed about the “prehistoric” positions of the candidate known to enjoy studying dinosaurs in his spare time.
“It’s kind of like back to the future,” she says not just about her brother, but all the contenders for the Republican nomination, in an interview with The Advocate. “They’re living in the ’90s. They don’t seem to be aware at all of where America is on these issues, and that is just really disappointing.”
Asked whether she felt surprised by Newt Gingrich's sudden acceleration to the front of the Republican pack, she says, “Not really, knowing his kind of commitment, his kind of bulldoggishness when it comes to something that he’s committed to and that he wants to do. I think there is a familiarity that people have with him, a sense of where he stands on issues. It would be a hell of a lot better if what he believed in was full equality, that’s for sure.”
When Gingrich served in Congress, he led the Republican majority that passed the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, and he voted for “don’t ask, don’t tell” while still a lesser-known representative from rural Georgia in 1993. Both laws took effect under President Bill Clinton, who has since renounced the measures, but just this week Gingrich reaffirmed his support for them. He endorsed pledges from the Iowa Family Leader and the National Organization for Marriage to push for a federal constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, among other anti-LGBT agenda items. He also compared being gay to a “choice” along the lines of celibacy.
Presented with his positions, Gingrich-Jones, who has worked for the Human Rights Campaign since 1995, references recent polling to argue that her brother stands “behind the times.” Surveys indicate that strong majorities of Americans support gays and lesbians serving openly in the military and workplace protections for LGBT people, which he also opposes. Growing majorities of voters support marriage equality, and more and more Americans know a gay family member or friend.
“If you’re trying to win the majority of people’s votes, yet you don’t have the same position as a majority of the people, that’s going to be an uphill climb,” she says. She also questions how her brother can defy one of his “political idols,” Barry Goldwater, who staunchly opposed the ban on open military service. “I would wonder, What would he say to Barry about his position?” she says.
Gingrich-Jones, 45, is accustomed to debating her big brother, almost 23 years her senior, at a distance and through a filter. She launched into advocacy after years of living in “blissful ignorance” in Pennsylvania when the so-called Republican Revolution swept her brother into power, and since then, she has carried on very public conversations to rebut his views, playing the role of blood relative and counterpoint. The “handful of times” she tried to engage him about policy one-on-one, early in his career as speaker, she says she received no response to her faxes, “the technology of choice at the time.”
“He and I have never lived in the same house together,” she says. “We didn’t grow up together. We’ve never really had a pick-up-the-phone-and-chat kind of relationship.”
Gingrich-Jones and her brother have the same biological mother, Kathleen, who passed away in 2003. Their father, Robert, an army officer who died in 1996, adopted Newt when he was a boy. Robert and Kathleen’s marriage also produced Susan and Roberta, Newt’s other half-sisters, who are respectively 18 and 16 years older than Candace.
When Gingrich-Jones came out in 1987, she did not tell her brother personally, but their mother “quite conveniently” took care of that for her. The Republican congressman responded reasonably well. “‘He said that it was your life and that you have the right to live it the way that you want to,’” she remembers their mother telling her.