“We will be continuing our support for Karen Handel,” Marc Yeager, then-president of the Georgia Log Cabin Republicans, told Southern Voice in an article published Aug. 15, 2003. “She demonstrated in her last run that she was supportive of domestic partner benefits, and she’s supported same-sex adoptions on the basis of the best interest of the child.”
At the time, Handel was running for Fulton County Commission chair. The quote has dogged her in her current race for governor, with former Congressman Nathan Deal — one of Handel’s opponents in the July 20 Republican primary — using it to paint her as not a true conservative.
“Records prove Handel’s support of gay adoption, domestic partner benefits,” reads the headline on a May 11 press release from Deal’s campaign.
Handel’s camp now says the comment from Yeager was inaccurate, but she never asked Southern Voice [I worked there as a reporter and editor at the time] for a correction or retraction.
Yeager said tonight that Handel, with whom he had frequently talked and emailed, never told him that it was wrong, either.
“As closely as I was working with her at the time, I certainly would not have made any statement like that if it had not been expressed from herself and clearly understood that that was her position,” Yeager said today.
Yeager said at the time, he had personal reasons for being concerned about gay adoption, adding to his certainty about Handel’s position.
“I had friends who are same-sex parents, and at the time my partner and I were also considering adoption, so it was a personal issue,” he said. “Certainly if she had the position she is affirming now, I would not have been as active in her campaign as I was at the time.”
Yeager also confirmed that Handel was a dues-paying member of the Georgia Log Cabin Republicans, noting that the LCR database shows she became a member in July 2002 and he remembers receiving a check for the membership from Handel at the LCR booth at the Atlanta Pride Festival, held at the end of June.
“She definitely was a member of Log Cabin and she was for at least two years,” said Yeager, who is no longer a leader in the group.
Handel’s outreach to gay voters in her Fulton County races included seeking and receiving endorsements from Georgia Equality and Log Cabin.
On Monday night, Yeager provided copies of three email exchanges between him and Handel from 2002 and 2003. They show the two had a friendly as well as political relationship, with Handel inquiring about Yeager’s vacations while also telling him about gay endorsement interviews and seeking his advice on the Georgia Equality candidate survey.
The first exchange, from July 2002, shows Handel sending Yeager a draft of her answers to Georgia Equality’s candidate survey, and Yeager responding with recommendations.
“As I’ve told you, I do support domestic partner benefits, and confirm my position here, although I do have concerns about a domestic partner registry,” Handel writes in the email. “Bottom line is that I will work with you and other GLBT leaders to develop workable legislation. Give me a call if you have questions. Otherwise, we can talk at the BBQ on Sunday.”
Asked in the GE survey if she has LGBT constituents and about her interactions with them, Handel responded, “I have numerous gay and lesbian friends, and my interaction is mostly on a personal level with these individuals. I am also a member of the Georgia Log Cabin Republicans and participated in this year’s Pride Weekend activities and attended the recent Georgia Equity/Human Rights Campaign forum regarding federal ENDA legislation.
“I believe it is important that, if we are to achieve real progress for Fulton County, we must reach out to all segments of our community, and I am committed to this,” Handel wrote.
In an exchange in mid-October 2002, Handel and Yeager discuss her interview for Georgia Equality’s endorsement and her stand on domestic partner benefits. Handel said she supports the benefits for county workers, but has privacy concerns about a DP registry open to all Fulton residents.
The third exchange, from September 2003, came after Yeager’s comment to Southern Voice about Handel’s support for gay adoption, and shows Handel continued to seek his advice after that interview. In these emails, Handel responds positively to Yeager’s invitation to join Log Cabin in the Atlanta AIDS Walk, and recounts discussions with Georgia Equality leaders about Ryan White HIV funding and other issues.
Handel has attempted to disavow her former outreach to gay voters in her bids for state office, including her successful 2006 campaign for Secretary of State and her current gubernatorial race.
In 2006, Bill Stephens, one of Handel’s GOP primary opponents for Secretary of State, also made an issue of her past stands on gay issues.
Handel responded by denouncing Southern Voice, despite granting several interviews with the paper in the past, including immediately after her election to the Fulton commission.
[Southern Voice was shut down on Nov. 16, 2009 when its parent company, Window Media, filed for bankruptcy, causing its archives to no longer be available online. A separate company — with no connection to the old Southern Voice and containing no former staff members — purchased the name in bankruptcy court in February 2010 and sporadically publishes a new newspaper with that name.]