Lichtenegger supports homosexual state rep; has not read proposed legislation to limit discussion on sexual orientation
Thursday, May 3, 2012
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- State Rep. Donna Lichtenegger, R-Jackson, was one of three Republican legislators who stood by fellow GOP Missouri House member Zachary Wyatt on Wednesday as he publicly announced he's gay.
But Lichtenegger stopped short of joining the Kirksville, Mo., Republican in calling on House majority leaders to end legislation that would limit discussion of sexual orientation in public schools, saying she had yet to read the so-called "don't say gay" bill.
"I was there as a friend of Zach Wyatt, period," Lichtenegger said. "I was only there because he asked me to be there because he was coming out of the closet. Whether he's gay or straight, he's still my friend and I wanted to support him."
Wyatt, who was elected in 2010 along with Lichtenegger, held a Capitol news conference Wednesday at which he said he was disclosing his sexual orientation for the first time. Wyatt and several other lawmakers denounced a bill that would prohibit teaching, extracurricular activities or distribution of materials that discuss sexual orientation unless they relate to the scientific facts about human reproduction.
Other Republicans who joined five Democrats at the news conference included Anne Zerr of St. Charles and Noel Torpey of Independence.
Lichtenegger said she had yet to read the bill and declined to comment on it until she does. But she did say that she had no idea that a denunciation of the bill was going to be a part of the conference. The bill appears unlikely to pass before the session ends, but has generated attention. Comedian Stephen Colbert mocked the Missouri proposal on his television show. Republican Steve Cook sponsored the bill and says he won't withdraw it.
"I don't know anything about the bill," she said. "I don't know what the bill is."
Lichtenegger came under fire last month for a Facebook post that she shared with other Republican lawmakers that joked about same-sex marriage being "legalized perversion." She said Wednesday that is not a view she ascribes to, though she said she does oppose gay marriage. Lichtenegger said she didn't read the entire post and shared it with others because she thought the first couple of lines were funny. The posting was a list compiled as a "Californian to Texan" translation guide and included 31 phrases.
"I didn't read the whole thing," Lichtenegger said. "I learned a valuable lesson from that. Read it all before you send it. Some of it was hurtful at the end, and I didn't realize it was there."
Since then, Lichtenegger apologized to the entire Democratic caucus and talked to a few openly gay House members to offer personal apologies.
While she said she doesn't support gay marriage, Lichtenegger said she doesn't feel homosexuals, or anyone else for that matter, should be bullied. She admitted that she was bullied as a child because she lived in a children's home and was impoverished.
But she said it was not her place to judge others or to debate homosexuality based on any religious beliefs she may have.
"I believe that those people have to go to their god," Lichtenegger said. "I am not wise enough to condemn anybody. It's not up to me to judge anybody."
Lichtenegger has gotten to know Wyatt in the two years that they have each served in the House. She also says she knows that he struggled with his decision, saying that it "has not been easy for him."
But she refuses to back away from a friend just because he is gay, saying that would be "stupid. He has been there for me. I'm going to be there for him."
She also said she wasn't worried that her support of Wyatt would hurt her in the August Republican primary, where she is facing challenges from Gerald Adams and Van Hitt.
"If I lose an election over that, then I lose an election over that," Lichtenegger said. "But between me and God, I'm OK."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Missouri State Capitol, Jefferson City, MO