WASHINGTON – Rep. Barney Frank sees an "angry, divisive" fight ahead for Massachusetts if a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage reaches the 2008 state ballot.
The congressman blamed backers of the initiative petition for trying to provoke a new fight despite a lack of controversy over same-sex marriage.
"Basically, they're the disturbers of the civic peace," the Democrat said in a wide-ranging Associated Press interview Thursday. "We now have social peace in Massachusetts. They're the ones who want to stir it up ... This is a non-issue in Massachusetts."
The Massachusetts Family Institute said the 124,000 certified signatures it gathered for the petition, nearly double the number required, was a sign of strong public support for outlawing same-sex marriage.
"All they want is an opportunity to vote on the definition of marriage," said the group's president, Kris Mineau. "Now that the people have spoken, the good congressman has decided this is a divisive issue."
Before the amendment can be placed on the state ballot, it must be approved by at least 50 lawmakers during two separate sessions of the Legislature.
"I think by 2008, people will say, 'Do we really need to have an angry, divisive debate over a non-issue,'" Frank said. "The question for the 50 legislators is: Do they want to make this a front-page issue again, leading the TV news?"
Amendment supporters want to overturn a 2003 Supreme Judicial Court ruling that said denying marriage licenses to gays was unconstitutional. State-approved same-sex marriages began May 17, 2004.
Relaxing in his Capitol Hill office and wearing a dark blue polo shirt during the congressional holiday break, Frank, 65, also spoke about his personal and political future.
He said he plans to retire from Congress before his health starts to fail him. He wants to avoid becoming a public spectacle.
"I'm not going to get old in public," he said. "I've seen some great men, literally great men, deteriorate in public view ... I don't think you should do that."
Once he leaves politics, Frank wants to write books about issues such as capitalism, the legislative process and democracy.
"One goal is to retire early enough to write some books," he said. "I wish I could write more fluidly than I do. I can still talk a lot more easily than I write."
The congressman, however, does not lack political ambition.
If Democrats recapture the House, he hopes to become chairman of either the Financial Services Committee or Judiciary Committee, two highly coveted posts.
"That's a dream come true," Frank said.
He would run for Senate if Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., campaigns for president again in 2008 and his seat is open. But there's a caveat: Frank would not run if Democrats win the House in 2006.
"Yes, I would run for the Senate," said Frank, who chided others for masking their own political ambitions. "I have a new rule for politicians: try to avoid saying something that no one will believe."
Frank and other members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation jockeyed for Kerry's seat during the 2004 presidential contest briefly when it appeared Kerry might win.
Kerry's 2008 White House prospects will depend on President Bush's popularity, he said.
"For John to win, people have to say, 'I was wrong to vote for Bush over him,'" Frank said. "That's a hard thing to do ... So by the middle of 2007, John's chances depend to a great extent on how Bush is perceived."
Frank mocked Gov. Mitt Romney, a prospective 2008 Republican presidential candidate, for shifting positions on issues like abortion.
"He's stopped saying 'evolved' because the people he's courting don't like evolution," Frank said. "His position on abortion has been intelligently redesigned."
Frank said Romney is targeting conservatives who dominate the Republican presidential primary process, trying to become the right-wing alternative to Arizona Sen. John McCain.
"Romney sees himself as having the best chance to be an alternative to McCain," Frank said. "He's moved way conservative. That's his strategy."
Frank said he was not bothered by Romney's frequent out-of-state trips to test the presidential primary waters.
"What hurts the state is his belittling of the state — his caricaturing and stereotyping of the state," he said. "That's damaging."