Hatch made the comment earlier this month during a St. George town hall meeting where he urged the audience of 300 to come together in support of the Republican Party as “unions, environmentalists, personal injury lawyers and gay rights activists do for Democrat candidates.”
“Gays and lesbians don’t pay tithing, their religion is politics,” he then added.
That sentence touched off a firestorm of criticism from gay rights activists in Utah and from around the country, as well as a host of angry letters to a number of newspapers.
“I’d love to know what that means, exactly. Gay people can’t be religious? The LGBT community necessarily cares more [about] politics than the rest of the country?” Washington Monthly columnist Steve Benen asked at the time.
In an interview with The Salt Lake Tribune, Hatch attempted to answer that question.
“Many gay people are vociferous Democrats who are willing to pony up money for politics. That’s something I admire,” he said. “I don’t know how I could have been much more complimentary the way I said it.”
Hatch also said that he never intended his words to imply that gays and lesbians aren’t religious.
“There are some very, very good gay people who are very religious who undoubtedly pay tithing,” he continued. “That wasn’t what I was talking about. I was talking about politics and praising them for getting involved. I was making the point that they don’t just stand on the side, they actually support their Democratic candidates with their money.”
Several Utahns, however, aren’t buying the apology. Tribune columnist Paul Rolly reminded readers that Hatch said something similar in the 1980s, when he told a group of St. George Republicans that the Democratic Party was the “party of abortionists and homosexuals.”
After being confronted with a tape recording of his remark, Rolly said Hatch claimed his remarks were misconstrued.
“The point of Hatch’s gaffes is that politicians typically say things in venues they consider politically friendly that they never would say to a general audience,” he wrote. “In the manner of a tent revival, they preach to the choir in the choir’s language in order to generate enthusiasm and ring up campaign cash. And in those environments, who cares about accuracy?”
“What Hatch is saying, then, is that Republicans need to look to The Gays for tips on coming together with unifying messages and tactics,” read a post on the popular gay blog Qweerty. “That is quite a compliment. It also completely ignores the fact that gay activists are wholly splintered on strategy, but hey, the GOP doesn’t need to know that.”
But some gay leaders were more forgiving.
David Melson, executive director of Affirmation, a support group for current and former gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender LDS Church members, said that his group was willing to accept the Senator’s apology.
“Town hall meetings can sometimes bring out emotions or words or thoughts that one would probably not utter in a controlled situation,” Melson told the Tribune. “I doubt very much he would have made the same comment if he were speaking in Salt Lake City.”