Karen Handel – the former Georgia Secretary of State who took anti-LGBT positions during past campaigns for higher office – struck a compassionate tone Wednesday when she joined a crowded race in the state's 6th Congressional District.
Handel went on anti-gay benders during a U.S. Senate run in 2014 and governor's race in 2010. But Wednesday, she stepped back from once suggesting being gay is a choice, comfortably used the phrase "LGBTQ" – which many GOP lawmakers still struggle with – and offered a thoughtful answer on her views about LGBT issues.
"It's no secret that I'm called to a different place, maybe, for some of the beliefs in the LGBTQ community because of my faith," Handel said during a press conference announcing her campaign. "With that said, I'm also called to be accepting and compassionate."
Handel said the race will focus more on rolling back "onerous and punitive" federal regulations, repealing and replacing Obamacare and tax reform, and not LGBT issues. (Listen to Handel's answers below.)
"In this race, I don't think that those are the issues that are going to be leading and what people most care about. What people really care about is for Congress and Washington to get on with doing the business of the people in the best right way and getting real results on, again, repealing and replacing Obamacare with common sense solutions that are going to work for real people whether they are in the LGBTQ community, families out across the country and across the district. Taxes, budget issues, all of those things I think are what are most paramount in the minds of the people of the 6th," Handel said.
Handel brings with her a complicated record on LGBT issues. In the early 2000s as a candidate for the Fulton County Commission and later its chair, Handel sought out LGBT support and became a member of the Log Cabin Republicans. As chair of the commission, Handel supported a grant for a non-profit that helped LGBT youth.
But by 2006, when she was elected Secretary of State, and later in a hotly contested GOP primary for governor in 2010, Handel disavowed her LGBT-friendly positions of the past. She came out against civil unions and same-sex marriage, said she agreed with banning adoptions by gay parents, criticized "liberal judges" for striking down a gay marriage ban in California, and opposed federal benefits for LGBT domestic partners.
In the interview, she wouldn’t say whether she believes homosexuality is a choice.
“I’m not going to get into the science,” she said, “about any of that.”
During those races, Handel's opponents – including now Gov. Nathan Deal and former U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey – criticized her for the LGBT-friendly approach she took on the Fulton County Commission.
On Wednesday, Handel said she never suggested that being gay is a choice.
"You are incorrect on the one about choice. I've never said that," Handel said.
Handel's supporters include Sue Everhart, the former chair of the Georgia Republican Party. Everhart has infamously derided same-sex marriage, questioned if gay couples "have the equipment to have a sexual relationship" and said she just doesn't "get the gay marriage."
Handel brings wide name recognition to a race with 16 candidates, including LGBT-friendly Democrats. The race is to fill the seat of former U.S. Rep. Tom Price, an anti-gay GOP lawmaker who was recently confirmed as secretary of Health & Human Services.
The election is April 18 with a likely runoff scheduled for June 20. The heavily Republican district includes large swathes of Atlanta’s influential northern suburbs such as Brookhaven, Sandy Springs, Johns Creek, and Alpharetta.
"This is an election that is going to be about results. Republicans have had eight years to talk about all of the things that we want to do. It's now time to deliver," Handel said.