With reporting by Julian Hattem
Leading gay rights group are accusing Republicans of trying to rile up their conservative base by launching a whisper campaign against potential Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan -- suggesting the current Solicitor General is a closeted lesbian even though she's not.
In its first entree into the upcoming Supreme Court nomination process, the group Human Rights Campaign blasted the increasingly public discussion of Kagan's sexuality, calling it a play "straight out the right-wing playbook."
"Even though the majority of Americans couldn't care less about a nominee's sexual orientation, the far right will continue to be shameless with their whisper campaigns to drum up their base and raise money off of prejudice," Michael Cole, a spokesperson for the group emailed, in a statement to the Huffington Post
In a separate interview, Jean-Marie Navetta, spokeswoman from PFLAG -- Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays -- accused people of trying to manufacture scandal out of thin air.
"People love taking part in rumors like this, whether they're gay or not, because it implies that there's some sort of scandal going on there. And the bottom line is, it doesn't matter and it shouldn't matter," she said. "But we hear it all the time... it's a gossip point for people. And I think it could certainly be used, or be perceived to be used by some as a way to discredit [Kagan], even though we all know that it does not matter and it should not matter."
The comments come a day after CBS published a blog by Ben Domenech, a former Bush administration aide and Republican Senate staffer, in which he asserted that choosing Kagan would help Obama "please" much of his base, because she would be the "first openly gay justice." The White House reacted strongly to the assertion, relaying that Kagan is, in fact, straight. It was the first public pushback by the administration in defense of any potential Supreme Court nominee.
Even before the CBS post, a top conservative religious group was already insisting that a nominee's sexuality would play a major role in his or her confirmation process. This past week, the organization Focus on the Family abruptly reversed its position from the last Supreme Court confirmation battle by declaring it would oppose a gay Supreme Court pick, no matter who the nominee is.
"We can assure you that we recognize that homosexual behavior is a sin and does not reflect God's created intent and desire for humanity," said Tom Minnery, the group's senior vice president. "Further, we at Focus do affirm that character and moral rectitude should be key considerations in appointing members of the judiciary, especially in the case of the highest court in the land. Sexual behavior -- be it heterosexual or homosexual -- certainly lies at the heart of personal morality."
The fact that the rumor campaign surrounding Kagan has been settled doesn't necessarily mean that the issue is off the table, Republicans still seem poised to make gay rights a prominent feature of the confirmation process -- should she be chosen as Justice John Paul Stevens' replacement. Already conservative websites are latching on to a brief signed by Kagan and 40 Harvard Law School professors in which they argued that the military's "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy was discriminatory against gay troops.
"Let's just say that if somebody is gay, it clearly becomes political fodder," said Navetta, when asked if the effort could damage Kagan's chances for the court or confirmation. "And I'm not implying one way or the other that she is or is not [gay]. I'm just saying that its no myth that people's sexual orientation can and does become an issue in political campaigns. We've seen it before."