A longtime gay friend of William Barr, President Trump’s pick as the next U.S. attorney general, has come to the defense of the nominee amid concerns from LGBT groups he’d continue the anti-LGBT legal positions of the Trump Justice Department.
Paul Cappuccio, a former general counsel for Time Warner who’s raising children in a same-sex marriage, told the Washington Blade during an interview Friday he worked for Barr when Barr served as attorney general during the George H.W. Bush administration and said “there’s been no one who has been more supportive of my same-sex family than Bill Barr has, not only with my partner, with my children, for whom he’s ‘Uncle Bill.’ I know several people who are openly gay — who he has mentored — front and center,” Cappuccio said. “I was not open the entire time I knew him, but I was open a lot of the time I knew him.”
Cappuccio, who said he’s “thrilled” Barr may come back as attorney general, said the Trump nominee “feels extremely passionate” that “justice is about fairness for an individual, and people are entitled to be treated as individuals no matter what their political views, their race, their religion, their sexual orientation.”
“About that, he’s always been passionate, and I’ve seen it with a first-hand seat, including sitting next to him in the attorney general’s office for a couple years, so I feel quite comfortable and happy that Bill could be attorney general again,” Cappuccio said.
Cappuccio said Barr is “a person who is about enforcing the laws, not undermining them, not trying to remake them” and that he “accepts precedent,” which Cappuccio said bodes well for preserving the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision in favor of marriage equality nationwide.
“Do I think Bill Bar would have, if he was on the Supreme Court, would have voted to make same-sex marriage a constitutional right?” Cappuccio said. “I don’t know, but I know he would do nothing to undermine the decision, right? And that’s what matters because he’s going to be our nation’s chief law enforcement officer.”
Cappuccio added Barr is a “devout Catholic,” but is “a person who has never been one to judge anyone, and for whom — and this is how he measures himself — the equal fair treatment of an individual is the ultimate requirement and test and goal.”
“For what it’s worth, I have direct experience with him as a person and seen how he has not only treated LGBT people fairly, but mentored them,” Cappuccio said. “He’s been a huge force in my life. For example, I got to tell you, I wasn’t always open, and when he found out, he looked at me and said, ‘You feel like you couldn’t tell me? You couldn’t tell me you want to marry someone? I can’t believe that.’ And that was one of the sweetest things. ‘I want to meet this guy’ is what he said.”
Despite Cappuccio’s praise for Barr, who most recently served as a counsel for Kirkland & Ellis LLP, the Trump nominee once made anti-gay comments expressing concerns about greater tolerance for the “homosexual movement” in the United States than the religious community.
“It is no accident that the homosexual movement, at one or two percent of the population, gets treated with such solicitude while the Catholic population, which is over a quarter of the country, is given the back of the hand,” Barr once wrote. “How has that come to be?”
Barr expressed those views in a 1995 article for “The Catholic Lawyer,” a conservative Catholic publication for St. John’s University School of Law, in an article titled, “Legal Issues in a New Political Order.”
“We live in an increasingly militant, secular age,” Barr wrote. “We see an emerging philosophy that government is expected to play an ever greater role in addressing social problems in our society. It is also expected to override various private interests as it goes about this work. As part of this philosophy, we see a growing hostility toward religion, particularly Catholicism. This form of bigotry has always been fashionable in the United States.”
As evidence of the subordination of religious attitudes to the will of the government, Barr pointed to a D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in 1987 requiring Georgetown University to give an LGBT student group equal rights to the organizations on campus despite the school’s Catholic views. (Georgetown University has since embraced the school’s LGBT student body.)
“Another example was the effort to apply District of Columbia law to compel Georgetown University to treat homosexual activist groups like any other student group,” Barr wrote. “This kind of law dissolves any form of moral consensus in society. There can be no consensus based on moral views in the country, only enforced neutrality.”
(Other media outlets have reported the article is dated October 2017, but that publication is a reprint. The website for St. John’s University’s Law School indicates the article was first published in 1995.)
Barr’s views in that 23-year-old article suggest his tenure as attorney general will continue to uphold the precedence of “religious freedom” over LGBT rights. Prior to his termination, former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued guidance outlining those views in a “religious freedom” memo as directed by Trump in an executive order last year. The Justice Department also participated in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case before the U.S. Supreme Court on the side of Jack Phillips, the Colorado baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple over religious objections.
Jon Davidson, chief counsel for the LGBT group Freedom for All Americans, said he was concerned that Barr’s comments in the 1995 article demonstrate he’ll continue the Justice Department on the same path as Sessions.
“While I am not aware of anything William Barr has done recently that explicitly indicates where he stands on discrimination against LGBTQ people, he made a number of disparaging comments in the 1990s about ‘homosexual activist groups’ and the ‘homosexual movement’ that are troubling,” Davidson said. “Those comments suggest that the Department of Justice under his stewardship is unlikely to alter course in any significantly positive way for LGBTQ people, as compared to the anti-LGBTQ positions advanced by the DOJ under Jeff Sessions.”
But Cappuccio dismissed concerns over views Barr expressed in the 1995 article, saying the underlying issue is “in truth a little more complicated than it gets portrayed, which is the right for religious people to hold their views versus the requirement that you can’t let them discriminate against people.”
“He’s not going to ever let people be discriminated against, OK?” Cappuccio said. “I think he was making in that article a broader point about that there’s a school of thought — and he identified like three schools of thought in that article — that taking a moral view, even by a religious institution, is kind of like illegitimate in a secular society, and he was raising that. I don’t think you can read that article and think he’s focusing on — I think he gave 100 examples of that issue.”
Cappuccio added he doesn’t “sweat” the views expressed in the article because of his long, first-hand friendship with Barr, which includes a close relationship with his family.
“When I heard he was thinking of going back to attorney general, my first reaction was ‘Does this mean he can’t babysit my daughter Mia anymore?” Cappuccio said. “But I’m telling you…and this is important to me, he’s a good guy on this issue and…this is not in any way, shape or form anyone you need to be worried about.”
Cappuccio said “frankly, my constitutional views would probably be there’s not a right” to same-sex marriage under the U.S. Constitution as decided in the Obergefell decision, even though he thinks it’s good policy, but added in terms of enforcing the law, including that ruling, Barr will be “nothing but a good thing for every individual, including gay individuals.”
Subordination of LGBT rights to religious freedom is just one component of the anti-LGBT policy that has come from the Justice Department during the Trump administration. Just two days after Sessions came into the job as attorney general, the Justice Department withdrew its appeal of a court order barring enforcement of Obama-era guidance requiring schools to allow transgender kids to use the restroom consistent with their gender identity. Weeks afterward, Sessions along with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos revoked the guidance altogether.
Under Sessions, the Justice Department similarly withdrew a lawsuit against North Carolina’s House Bill 2 when it was replaced with a compromise law signed by North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper and let stand a court order against protections for transgender patients under Obamacare.
Sessions also issued a memo reversing former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s position that anti-transgender discrimination in the workforce is unlawful under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars sex discrimination in employment. The Justice Department under Sessions also argued before the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals that Title VII doesn’t cover anti-gay discrimination in employment and continues to defend Trump’s transgender military ban in court.
Cappuccio said he has “no idea” whether Barr will continue the Justice Department’s position against LGBT inclusion under federal laws barring sex discrimination and defense of the transgender military ban.
Sarah Kate Ellis, CEO of GLAAD, was out of the gate early with a statement objecting to Trump’s choice of attorney general, predicting the Trump administration’s efforts at “erasing” LGBT people will continue under Barr’s watch.
“William Barr, who has wrongfully suggested that LGBTQ people – not Trump and his destructive policies – have harmed the United States, is the latest in a long line of replacements who President Trump has appointed to his Cabinet who are just as anti-LGBTQ as their predecessors,” Ellis said. “If confirmed, there’s little doubt that William Barr would continue the Trump administration’s objective of erasing LGBTQ Americans from the fabric of this nation.”
During his tenure at the Justice Department under Bush, Barr also acted to keep in place an administrative ban on people with HIV from entering the United States. When the Department of Health & Human Services sought to change the rule, Barr led the Justice Department in blocking the change. According to a 1991 article in the The New York Times, Barr argued “it was completely impractical for an immigration examiner to make a sophisticated analysis of an alien’s infection and health insurance coverage to determine whether that person might become a public charge in 5 or 10 years.” (The HIV travel ban would later be codified in 1993 and not lifted until a bipartisan process spanning the George W. Bush and Obama administrations.)
Additionally, Barr is on record saying he supported the use of Guantanamo Bay to detain people with HIV from entering the United States, including Haitians seeking asylum in the country.
David Stacy, government affairs director of the Human Rights Campaign, referenced Barr’s anti-gay views and actions against people with HIV in a statement expressing concerns about the designated nominee.
“The Trump-Pence White House and the Justice Department have been pursuing a policy agenda to undermine the legal rights of LGBTQ people since day one,” Stacy said. “From his views around HIV/AIDS during his tenure as attorney general to his more recent writing promoting extreme views around religious exemptions, William Barr looks ill suited to be our country’s top law enforcement officer. The Senate has a solemn responsibility to advise and consent on this important nomination and his troubling views on LGBTQ equality and the law must be thoroughly vetted.”
The Blade reached out to Barr for comment for this article on whether his views on LGBT rights have changed since the 1990s, but he referred Cappuccio to the Blade to speak on his behalf as a member of the LGBT community.
Jerri Ann Henry, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, was vague in response to a request to comment on Barr.
“We are pleased to see President Trump take action to ensure the Justice Department has an experienced leader at the helm and we look forward to working with Attorney General nominee Barr in the future,” Henry said.
This article originally appeared in the Washington Blade and is made available in partnership with the National LGBT Media Association.