Why Newt Gingrich's sister says vote Obama

While the Republican goes gunning for gays to boost his hardline GOP credentials, his lesbian activist sister will be rooting for the President. Can their 'respectful' family bond survive the strain?

As we're sitting down to lunch at a restaurant in Washington DC, a smartly dressed man approaches Candace Gingrich-Jones. "I just wanted to say hello," he announces, cheerfully, "because I know your brother."

Ms Gingrich-Jones has two stock responses to people who greet her in this fashion. The first, to those who seem friendly, is to politely say how nice it is to make their acquaintance. The second, to anyone who claims to be among her famous half-sibling's enemies, is to smile archly and respond: "You are not alone!"

This time, given the man's ownership of an array of Republican sartorial props (blazer, tie, sensible haircut and stars-and-stripes lapel badge) she goes with the former.

Ms Gingrich-Jones's half-brother is, of course, Newt Gingrich, the former Republican leader in Congress and would-be presidential candidate who is attempting, with mixed success, to position himself as the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney.

The reason for her mixed reactions is that while Newt is among the best-known figures on the right of American politics, Ms Gingrich-Jones is a creature of the left. She also happens to be a lesbian, a mortal sin in the eyes of mainstream Republicans. And she is also a happy participant in same-sex marriage, something every major GOP candidate, including her own half-brother, would like to see outlawed.

But the biggest sore thumb is Ms Gingrich-Jones's day job. As the head of "youth and campus outreach" at the Human Rights Campaign, a lobbying organisation devoted to gay and lesbian issues, she is a professional agitator against the very social values her elder half-brother espouses.

Regardless of whether Newt Gingrich ends up as the GOP contender in November's election, Ms Gingrich-Jones will be working tirelessly to ensure victory for his opponent, Barack Obama.

"No matter who the Republican candidate is, I will do everything I possibly can to ensure they don't win," she says. "President Obama has done so much for the gay community. From repealing 'Don't ask, don't tell', to getting a hate-crime prevention act passed in 2008, to anti-discrimination policies in the workplace, to laws giving gay couples hospital visitation rights. It would be a disaster if he were to lose."

Newt has failed to utter a word about his sister on the campaign trail so far. But Ms Gingrich-Jones has been less discrete. Before Christmas, she popped up on the Rachel Maddow programme to formally endorse Obama. And speaking to The Independent last week, she admitted to being deeply upset by his recent pronouncements on gay issues.

Though stressing that their relationship is "respectful", Ms Gingrich-Jones was perturbed by an interview in which Newt said society should "tolerate" homosexuals in the same way that it tolerated alcoholics. "Does he take these positions because he absolutely believes them? Or does he have them because he's a Republican running for president?" wonders Ms Gingrich-Jones. "Only Newt knows the answer to that. I honestly don't know if that's what he feels in his heart... Politics, it changes people."

Ms Gingrich-Jones puts Newt's position on the hostile end of an array of GOP candidates she believes are playing the homophobic card in an effort to woo the religious right. Recent weeks have seen Rick Perry produce an anti-gay campaign video, and Rick Santorum declare that if America were to legalise same-sex marriage then it should also make polygamy legal and allow men to marry farmyard animals.

"Santorum, Rick Perry and my brother are all in the same bit of the spectrum on gay issues," Ms Gingrich-Jones says, adding that if she had to choose a Republican president it would probably be Mitt Romney. "He supported workplace discrimination protection, when he was governor of Massachusetts. But he won't acknowledge that now."

Ms Gingrich-Jones has never been exactly close to Newt, who at 68 is 23 years older than her, and had left home before she was born. Their genetic relationship is also complex: the duo share a mother, Kathleen. Ms Gingrich-Jones's father, Robert, was Newt's adoptive (but not biological) father.

As a child growing up in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Ms Gingrich-Jones only occasionally saw Newt, who at the time was a college professor in Georgia, on the first of his three marriages. "A lot of people see the distance between my brother and me and think it's all ideological; that the reason we don't hang out is because we don't get along," she says. "But, really, he was gone before I was even born, and I never got to know him."

Ms Gingrich-Jones realised she was gay as a teenager, but her first same-sex relationship had to wait until university. There she discovered that several fellow members of the women's rugby team (she plays hooker) were openly lesbian. "Not all lesbians play rugby and not all rugby players are lesbians. But there's a great deal of overlap. And on my college team, I began seeing people that felt what I felt, and were open and fine with that. It was like a piece of my life falling into place."

Ms Gingrich-Jones "came out" in the summer of 1987, when Kathleen discovered a gay newsletter in her bedroom. At the time, Newt was a junior congressman. "I asked what my brother had said about it, and my mother told me that his reply was along the lines of this is my life and I can live it however I want to,'" she recalls.

After university, she settled into an unremarkable job loading trucks for UPS. But her life changed in 1994, when Newt, a rising Republican star, was elected Speaker. "Suddenly, the media became interested in our family," she recalls. One day, a reporter came to interview her. "Towards the end of our conversation, she said: 'I have one more question: are you gay?' I didn't have any reason not to tell her, so I said yes."

With that, she became headline news. Reporters began examining Newt's record on gay issues. It turned out to be surprisingly hard-line. "Until then, I had no idea that he'd said some of the things he said."

Shortly afterwards, the Human Rights Campaign rang Ms Gingrich-Jones. Saying she had a "powerful" story that deserved to be shared, they persuaded her to embark on a tour of the US, holding town-hall meetings at which she counselled people who had been abused or discriminated against because of their sexuality. She later joined the organisation full time, moved to Washington DC, and has been there ever since.

In the glare of publicity that came with the Clinton era, her relationship with Newt became understandably strained. But in recent years, as media attention has waned, it has thawed significantly, she says. Two catalysts for their rapprochement have been Rebecca, Ms Gingrich-Jones's spouse, whom she met in 2006 through her rugby team, the Washington Furies, and Newt's third wife, Callista, whom he married in 2000. "Rebecca is strongly family orientated. To her it was just unacceptable that I would have a blood relative in the same city and we wouldn't do things together. Callista was very much the same. So in the past five years I have seen my brother more than in the previous 25 years. Callista has changed him, made him far more appreciative of family."

Newt and Ms Gingrich-Jones now get together every Christmas holiday. On social occasions, Ms Gingrich-Jones and Newt never talk politics. Instead, they find common ground discussing family matters or American Football.

Ms Gingrich-Jones says her brother is no longer the volatile figure of the 1990s, though she does keep hearing commentators wondering: "When is he going to have his big meltdown?"

Because he has publicly remained hostile to gay rights, Newt's relationship with his sister has its limits. Two years ago, when Ms Gingrich-Jones married Rebecca in Boston, Newt and Callista sent a gift. But they declined an invitation to the event itself, saying they were travelling in Asia.

In future, the limits of his tolerance may be tested further: Ms Gingrich-Jones and Rebecca are planning to become parents, once they have worked out the logistics. So could a lesbian family one day be house-guests in a Gingrich White House? In this most topsy-turvy of sibling relationships, stranger things have probably happened.

Straight Talkers: Candidates' Views

Newt Gingrich

"I believe that marriage is between a man and woman... and I think this [homosexuality] is a temporary aberration that will dissipate. I think that it just fundamentally goes against everything we know."

Mitt Romney

"...from the very beginning in 1994, I said to the gay community, I do not favour same-sex marriage..."

Rick Perry

"Obviously gay marriage is not fine with me."

Rick Santorum

"[Marriage is] the union that causes children to be born and raised in an environment that's a birthright. When we deny children that birthright by saying other types of relationships are OK, I think we are harming children."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Lucerne’s Hotel Château Gütsch, one of the lots in our Homeless Veterans appeal charity auction
charity appeal
Sport
Raheem Sterling of Liverpool celebrates scoring the opening goal
footballLIVE: Follow all the latest from tonight's Capital One quarter-finals
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
people

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
Sebastian Siemiatkowski is the 33-year-old co-founder and CEO of Klarna, which provides a simple way for people to buy things online
tech
Voices
Jimmy Mubenga died after being restrained on an aircraft by G4S escorts
voicesJonathan Cox: Tragedy of Jimmy Mubenga highlights lack of dignity shown to migrants
News
Not quite what they were expecting
news

When teaching the meaning of Christmas backfires

News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Angelina Jolie and Sony Pictures co-chairman Amy Pascal at the Golden Globes in 2011
film
Extras
indybest
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...

Ashdown Group: Java Developer - Hertfordshire - £47,000 + bonus + benefits

£40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - Nationwide - OTE £65,000

£30000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small technology business ...

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Scandi crush: Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

Th Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum
France's Front National and the fear of a ‘gay lobby’ around Marine Le Pen

Front National fear of ‘gay lobby’

Marine Le Pen appoints Sébastien Chenu as cultural adviser
'Enhanced interrogation techniques?' When language is distorted to hide state crimes

Robert Fisk on the CIA 'torture report'

Once again language is distorted in order to hide US state wrongdoing
Radio 1’s new chart host must placate the Swifties and Azaleans

Radio 1 to mediate between the Swifties and Azaleans

New chart host Clara Amfo must placate pop's fan armies
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'It's life, and not the Forces, that gets you'

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'It's life, and not the Forces, that gets you'

The head of Veterans Aid on how his charity is changing perceptions of ex-servicemen and women in need
Torture: It didn't work then, it doesn't work now

Torture: It didn't work then, it doesn't work now

Its use is always wrong and, despite CIA justifications post 9/11, the information obtained from it is invariably tainted, argues Patrick Cockburn
Rebranding Christmas: More public bodies are refusing to give the festival its name for fear of causing offence

Rebranding Christmas

More public bodies are refusing to give the festival its name for fear of causing offence. They are missing the point, and we all need to grow up