For the second election in a row, a New Jersey Republican congressman is under fire for comments he made about gay people.
The Washington Blade, a newspaper that serves Washington, D.C.’s LGBTQ community, published a recording on Wednesday in which Rep. Chris Smith struggles to answer a teenager’s question about whether her gay sister would be less of a legitimate parent than a straight person.
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But the publication’s characterization of Smith’s remarks that the congressman suggested children would be better off in orphanages than with gay adoptive parents is contradicted by a full recording of the event Smith’s office released late Wednesday.
Smith, who was first elected to Congress in 1980 and is facing reelection in November, called the release of a partial recording of the exchange “despicable,“ and said the tape released by the Blade is “distorting the truth and raising false questions about my record.”
In the one minute, eight second recording made on May 29 and posted by the Blade Wednesday morning, Smith is heard addressing students at Colts Neck High School in Monmouth County.
Smith, who represents the 4th Congressional District, said that legally, the teenager’s sister would be free to adopt a child. But when the student, identified in the Blade story as Hannah Valdes, asked why Smith thinks her sister shouldn’t be able to adopt, the congressman didn’t directly answer, saying he believed “there are many others who would like to adopt who can acquire a child” and that the “waiting periods are extremely long.”
Another student, who is not identified in the story, then asked Smith what makes those people “more legitimate” than Valdes’ sister.
“In my opinion, a child needs every possibility of,” Smith says before cutting himself off. He then begins again, saying, “You know, you mentioned — somebody mentioned orphanages before. I mean, orphanages are still a possibility for some kids.”
The unidentified student continued to press Smith, specifically on whether he’d rather have children remain in orphanages than be with gay parents.
In the full, hour-long recording provided by Smith’s office, the congressman is cut off just as he begins answering by an adult who changes the subject, asking him to instead share stories about Sen. John McCain, who at the time was battling terminal brain cancer. McCain died last month.
But a few minutes earlier on the recording, a student asked Smith about his vote in 1999 in support of a failed amendment that would have barred federal funding to facilitate non-married couples in Washington state from adopting — a measure that would have effectively applied to gay couples. Smith, who explained to the student that many people had changed their opinion on gay marriage, including former President Barack Obama, said he would nevertheless vote the same way again.
“Adoption is all about the best interests of the child. Now, there are people who feel that the best interests of the child is for gay couples to adopt,” Smith tells the student, before citing an unspecific “home study” to justify the fact that “I would vote the same way, frankly, as I did then.”
Smith then bemoaned the fact that Catholic Charities had stopped doing adoptions in several jurisdictions “because they believe the best interests of the child is not that kind of adoption.”
But when a student then asked Smith if he thought orphanages would be in the better interests of the child, the congressman said, “No. Lord, no,” and explained how he’s “very aggressively pro-adoption.”
“Anybody can twist your words and make false representations when they splice up a tape,” Smith said in a statement that accompanied the longer recording his office released. “It is despicable that someone thought they could score political points by distorting the truth and raising false questions about my record and the full range of topics discussed at the [high school] assembly.”
It’s not clear how the Washington Blade obtained the recording.
Smith, a devout Roman Catholic, is well-known for his socially conservative views, but more for his anti-abortion stances than gay rights. He has, however, made controversial remarks about gay people before. In 2015, the Human Rights Campaign condemned him for saying during a hearing that he does “not construe homosexual rights as human rights.”
This is not the first time a Republican member of New Jersey’s congressional delegation has come under fire for remarks about gay people.
Former U.S. Rep. Scott Garrett’s alleged remark to colleagues in 2015 that he would not contribute to the National Republican Congressional Committee because it supported some gay candidates was a likely factor in his loss the following year to Democrat Josh Gottheimer in North Jersey’s 5th District. Garrett had represented the district for nearly a decade.
Garrett’s district, though Republican-leaning, was considered more friendly for Democrats than Smith’s Central Jersey district, which extends from the Jersey shore to the Delaware River.
This year, Smith, who has represented the 4th District for nearly 40 years and typically skates to reelection with only a token challenge, is facing a well-funded opponent this year in Democrat Josh Welle, a U.S. Navy veteran. Still, in a year when most Republicans in New Jersey are considered vulnerable, Smith is widely considered to be the safest.
“Chris Smith’s out-of-touch views might have flown in 1980 when he was elected, but his time has passed,” Welle said in a statement before Smith released the full audio “In 2018, in Central Jersey, it is unacceptable to imply a child would be better off in an orphanage than with a loving LGBTQ family. As a veteran, I fought on the front lines alongside men and women who gave their lives to protect and defend the civil liberties that our Constitution ensures for everyone, not just a few. Chris Smith takes us backwards on inclusion and basic human rights for all.”