Republican congressional candidate Jack Kelly is featured in an Oscar winning documentary.
But it may not be the kind of attention he wants.
The movie, Freeheld, follows the struggle of Laurel Hester, a former Point Pleasant police officer who was dying of cancer, to leave her pension benefits to her same sex life partner, Stacie Andree.
But the couple faced obstacles from the Ocean County Board of Freeholders, and from Kelly in particular. In the movie, Kelly is shown saying that giving the benefits would violate the sanctity of marriage. Towards the end of the film — after the rest of the board reconsiders and grants pension benefits to same-sex couples — the camera focuses on the empty seat of Kelly, who did not attend the meeting.
Kelly, however, said that he’s not scared that the movie could drum up donations to Democratic candidate John Adler from the gay community should he be the nominee, or adversely affect his race for the Republican nomination against Chris Myers.
“I do not fear that. If it happens, so be it,” said Kelly, who has not seen the movie. “That base is not a traditional Republican base anyway.”
Kelly said that his comment about protecting the sanctity of marriage was taken out of context. He opposed giving pension benefits to same sex couples because the law excluded other types of non-traditional cohabiting couples. A reporter, he said, followed up a question about pension benefits with a question about gay marriage, and the movie made his answer, intended to be about the latter, appear to be about the former.
“The whole issue is so misconstrued. It was about domestic partnerships, not gay marriage. To give civil rights to certain people and excludes others — I never though that was fair,” he said. “I think it is just as much discrimination against heterosexual couples.”
Kelly remains steadfast in his opposition to the current domestic partnership law.
“My position on domestic partnership has been the same the entire time,” he said.
Garden State Equality Chair Steven Goldstein, who appears in the movie, said that it reflects poorly on Kelly, to say the least.
“Even for the most conservative parts of New Jersey, he is an extremist. It’s not just ideology. The movie shows him as utterly heartless,” said Goldstein. “Now am I saying that Jack Kelly is a heartless human being? Make no mistake, I am saying that. Jack Kelly has less of a heart than any of the characters in the Wizard of Oz.”
Goldstein hinted that he does indeed believe that the movie will open the pocketbooks of the LGBT community and social liberals alike – straight into Adler’s campaign, should Kelly win the nomination.
“I will be coy and just say that Jack Kelly has an extraordinary ability to raise the hackles of a lot of people who have a lot of money, and I’m not just talking about the gay community,” he said.
Criticism of Kelly from the gay community could actually help burnish his already strong credentials among the more conservative voters who tend to turn out in primaries, however – something Goldstein welcomes.
“If he says Garden State Equality hates me and we help him get the nomination, fabulous. Because when the real story about Jack Kelly gets out, then C3PO from Star Wars will have a better shot at winning in the third congressional district,” he said.