Karen Handel, the Republican who will face Democrat Jon Ossoff in a runoff election for a Georgia congressional seat, has a deeply anti-LGBT record that she backed away from in this race.
Handel received 19.8 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s special election in the Sixth Congressional District, where Rep. Tom Price had resigned to become Donald Trump’s secretary of Health and Human Services. That placed her second to Ossoff, who finished with 48.1 percent, according to CNN. That was just short of the majority needed to win the seat outright in a field of 18 candidates, so the two top vote-getters advance to a June 20 runoff.
Handel’s record on LGBT issues is “complicated,” reports Project Q Atlanta. “In the early 2000s as a candidate for the Fulton County Commission (the county that includes Atlanta) and later its chair, Handel sought out LGBT support and became a member of the Log Cabin Republicans,” the publication reports. As chair, she endorsed a county grant to an organization that assists LGBT youth, although she voted against a domestic-partner benefits measure.
She took anti-LGBT positions in 2006, when she ran successfully for Georgia secretary of state, and later. In 2010, seeking the Republican gubernatorial nomination, she gave an interview asserting her opposition to same-sex marriage, civil unions, domestic-partner benefits, and adoption by gay people.
“Marriage is between one man and one woman,” she told Atlanta TV station WXIA. “And I've been very, very clear about that. And the record is clear about any of the other issues like domestic-partner benefits or anything like that. In fact, in Fulton, I voted no on domestic-partner benefits.”
She went on to cite her Christian faith and say that same-sex relationships “are not what God intended.” She further said that gay parents are not in the best interests of children and that she would consider legislation banning adoption by LGBT people.
She also is antichoice. After losing the gubernatorial primary, she became senior vice president of public policy for the Susan G. Komen for the Cure, a foundation focused on breast cancer. She was behind the group’s controversial decision 2012 decision to end grants to Planned Parenthood for breast cancer screening, a decision it had to reverse after much public criticism. Handel, who subsequently resigned from the foundation, at first denied her role in the matter, but she boasted of it when she ran in the U.S. Senate primary in 2014.
“As a strong believer in the sanctity of life, Karen Handel had to make a decision: keep quiet in the face of the liberal onslaught, or stand by her convictions,” says a campaign ad shared by Right Wing Watch.
Handel still touts herself as “pro-life,” and she is staunchly conservative on most issues, but she sought to downplay her anti-LGBT record during the congressional race.
“It’s no secret that I’m called to a different place, maybe, for some of the beliefs in the LGBTQ community because of my faith,” she said in a February press conference announcing her campaign, according to Project Q. “With that said, I’m also called to be accepting and compassionate.”
She said she did not think LGBT issues would be important in the race, with priority going to federal tax and budget matters, and repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act.
Many political experts see the Sixth District race as a referendum on the Trump agenda. The progressive Ossoff’s strong showing in a historically Republican district indicates strong opposition to Trump as Democrats try to flip the district in their favor. Democrats also hope a victory will be harbinger of more in the 2018 congressional races.