POLITICS
10/24/2012 04:56 pm ET

Joe Walsh In 1996: I'm The Most 'Gay-Friendly Republican Around'

WASHINGTON -- It was just four days ago that conservative Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) dismissed gay marriage as a "socioeconomic issue" that can have a negative impact on the children of LGBT parents.

But a look back at Walsh in 1996 reveals a far different politician: one who prided himself on being the most pro-gay rights Republican in town.

"If there's a more gay-friendly Republican around, I'd like to meet them," Walsh said in an interview with the Windy City Times.

Walsh, who at the time was running against former Rep. Sid Yates (D-Ill.), cast himself not just as liberal, but as being out front on social issues that appeal to Democrats. He vowed that, if elected to Congress, he would support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, vote to end Don't Ask, Don't Tell, enact domestic partner benefits for same-sex couples and be an all-around leader on gay issues.

He was so serious about casting himself as a pro-gay rights candidate that he planned to ride his bike around to gay bars in his district to "press some gay flesh," reads the article in the Windy City Times, titled, "Yates Challenger Pedals Pro-Gay Views."

"It's a community that I really want to reach out to," Walsh said.

The Illinois Republican didn't make it to Congress until 2010. But during his two years in office, he hasn't exactly been a leader on LGBT issues.

Now a Tea Party favorite, Walsh voted for the House version of the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, which included provisions viewed by some as an effort to roll back rights granted when Don't Ask, Don't Tell was repealed. He said he opposed gay marriage in his May 2012 debate with Democrat Tammy Duckworth, calling it "not the most important issue in this campaign." And the Human Rights Campaign gave Walsh a big fat zero in its 2012 Congressional Scorecard.

A Walsh campaign spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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