Updated 7:27 p.m. | Rep. Chris Smith’s views on gay marriage were thrust into the spotlight again Wednesday after the New Jersey Republican brought up orphanages when asked about same-sex parenting, according to an audio recording of the exchange.
But Smith told Roll Call those comments were taken out of context.
A recording of a question-and-answer session between Smith and high school students, reportedly taken on May 29 at Colts Neck High School in Central New Jersey, was first obtained by the Washington Blade, an LGBT news source based in Washington, D.C.
Smith's campaign later released the congressman's own full recording of the question-and-answer session with the students.
At one point in Smith's recording, a student asked whether the he thought foster homes and orphanages were better for children than gay adoptive parents.
"No. Lord, no," Smith said. "We have waiting periods for families to adopt children, often by years, but certainly long waiting periods of couples who’d love to adopt, but the child is simply not available."
Hannah Valdes, a senior, later asked Smith whether her gay sister, in his opinion, would be “less of a legitimate parent” than someone in a heterosexual partnership.
Smith said the point was "legally moot" after a series of court rulings in 2015, 2016, and 2017 made same-sex couple adoption legal in all 50 states.
“She is free to adopt,” Smith said. “The issue is legally moot at this point, especially with the Supreme Court decision. And she's free to adopt.”
"But why do you think she shouldn't be able to adopt a child?" Valdes asked.
"I think you’re getting to — I do believe that there are many others who would like to adopt who can’t acquire a child," Smith responded. "As I said, the waiting periods are extremely long, and —"
Another student then interjected and asked Smith what made “those other people” waiting for an adoption more entitled to one than Valdes' sister.
That’s when Smith invoked orphanages, though it is unclear whether he was offering the institutions as an alternative to gay adoptive couples or if he was redirecting the conversation elsewhere and simply noting how some children still live in orphanages.
Another person interjected to ask Smith about the HBO documentary that was released that month on Sen. John McCain.
“In my opinion, a child needs every possibility of — somebody mentioned orphanages before,” Smith said in the recording. “I mean, orphanages are still a possibility for some kids, but —”
Both in a phone conversation with Roll Call and in a campaign press release, Smith expressed frustration at what he said was an attempt to pluck his words out of context.
The Blade’s anonymous source who released the original recording did him a “dirty trick,” Smith told Roll Call. “I’m shocked at how this has been manipulated.”
From the transcript, Smith appears to have accepted the courts' rulings that gay couples can adopt children, whether he agrees with it or not.
For him, the forgotten issue today is one of religious freedom for some shuttered adoption agencies. Catholic Charities and other religious groups, he noted, have been barred from facilitating adoptions because they are opposed to same-sex adoptive couples.
Smith "believes that all resources, including faith-based ones, are needed to help" the more than 400,000 U.S. children in foster care, his campaign said in a press release Wednesday.
Smith has raised eyebrows for previous comments on same-sex couples.
At a hearing in the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa in 2015, Smith said he was a “strong believer in traditional marriage” and that he does not “construe homosexual rights as human rights.”
“Others have a different view and I certainly respect them,” Smith said.
That comment drew a rebuke from fellow New Jersey Rep. Frank Pallone, a Democrat.
“Congressman Smith is welcome to have his own opinions, but when he makes such an inflammatory statement in an effort to push the administration into ignoring the rights of LGBT people as a matter of policy, it crosses the line,” Pallone said, in a statement at the time. “Representatives in Congress must be promoting the expansion of human rights, not fighting to limit its definition to people that they deem to be appropriate.”
Smith said Pallone was “twisting his words” and had taken them out of context.