Post-DOMA

06.30.13

Supreme Court Decision on DOMA and New Portrait Have Barney Frank Smiling

The irascible former congressman just had his official portrait unveiled—and his husband is now eligible for health insurance (though not his pension). Eleanor Clift reports.

As the first member of the U.S. Congress to enter into a same-sex marriage, former Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank had a personal stake in the outcome of the challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act. His husband did not have health insurance when they married nearly a year ago, and he is now eligible for Frank’s retiree health plan through Congress.

The couple will now file their tax returns jointly, but the biggest thing is health insurance, Franks told The Daily Beast. His husband, 43-year-old Jim Ready, has his own business making custom awnings and doing other carpentry and handyman services, and like many self-employed people he couldn’t afford private insurance. Now that burden will be lifted.

What about Frank’s pension from Congress? Will his newly recognized spouse have access to that as well? Frank was one of the better known, more productive, and most outspoken members of Congress for 30 years. In a body where even one-termers walk away with a generous sum, his pension must be considerable. That’s when he dropped this shocker: “I didn’t apply for a pension from Congress.”

I had him repeat what he said to make sure I heard right. Sensing my incredulity, he said: “I make a lot of money talking and writing. Six months ago, I would have said you couldn’t pay me enough to have a civil conversation with Karl Rove—but it turns out you can.” Frank is in demand on the lecture circuit, where he often is paired with a conservative.

Frank sees the irony in any situation, and when I remarked that all the heterosexual couples these days seem focused on prenups while gay couples are all about sharing, he quipped, “We’re the best friends the institution of marriage has these days.”

Coincidentally, a portrait of Frank was unveiled and hung in the House Financial Services main hearing room on Tuesday, the day before the DOMA ruling was handed down. Everyone who chairs the committee is entitled to have a portrait done at his or her own expense. Frank was eligible after the Democrats lost the majority in 2010 and he was no longer chairman. Still a member of the committee, he decided to wait until he retired. “The thought of sitting and working under my own portrait seemed kind of creepy,” he says.

“We’re the best friends the institution of marriage has these days.”

The artist, Jon Freedman, did not make the perpetually restless Frank sit for his portrait; instead he followed him around and took pictures. The result, says Frank, is “one of the best portraits I’ve ever seen. It really does tell the story of me.” He’s portrayed sitting at his desk gesturing, his collar slightly rumpled, the landmark financial reform legislation he co-authored visible along with his wedding ring. “It’s only slightly better looking than me,” he muses, “which is what you want, something that’s authentic” but still flattering.

Among the dignitaries gathered in the Rayburn House Office Building for the unveiling was Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke, former Treasury secretary Hank Paulson, and former senator Chris Dodd, co-author of the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation. Republican Jeb Hensarling, the current chair of the Financial Services Committee, spoke generously about Frank, who could be prickly in his dealings with colleagues, and got a lot of knowing laughs from the bipartisan crowd when he said, according to Frank, “he likes to have me seen and not heard.”