James Hormel - a homosexual activist seeking to become the U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg - has an unusual champion in the U.S. Senate: conservative Orrin Hatch.
Hatch, R-Utah, is one of only two Republicans on record as promoting Hormel - while some conservative groups are fighting hard to prevent his nomination from even coming to a vote.The only other Republican pushing Hormel so far is Sen. Gordon Smith of Oregon who, like Hatch, is also a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Why is Hatch helping Hormel?
"I don't like discrimination of any type," he told the Deseret News. "I don't believe in preventing someone from serving as long as they conduct themselves within certain standards."
Hatch said Hormel, heir to the Hormel meat-packing fortune, has assured him that he would not use the ambassadorship as a platform to push gay-rights issues.
"If he did that, I would oppose him. But he has promised me that he would not," Hatch said.
He added that others, including Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, have assured him that Hormel is exceptionally bright, intellectual, experienced in foreign policy and "is very capable otherwise of serving."
So Hatch and Smith joined Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Robert Torricelli, D-N.J., in a letter to other senators seeking a quick vote on his nomination.
It said, "Jim Hormel has had a distinguished career as a scholar, lawyer, businessman and philanthropist . . . (that) strongly indicate that he has the makings of a very successful ambassador."
Meanwhile, the Traditional Values Coalition is fighting Hormel by sending senators binders with samples of homosexual literature found in a gay and lesbian center in the San Francisco public library named for him in honor of donations he made to expand the library.
It includes "Boys Speak Out on Man/Boy Love," and other books conservatives say extol pedophilia. Hormel said in a letter to Smith that he has no input or control over what is placed in the room that the library named for him.
Sen. Tim Hutchinson, R-Ark., has also complained that Hormel backs "gay pride" parades, and is upset that he declined to repudiate some marchers that Hutchinson feels have ridiculed the Roman Catholic Church.
Still, Hatch said that Hormel's experience and qualifications are sufficient to merit backing - and says he is about as good of a nominee as he can expect from President Clinton.
Supporting Hormel is not the first time that Hatch has ignored darts from other conservatives to help homosexuals. For example, he pushed legislation to collect data nationwide on hate crimes - including those against gays.
Also he was a major early backer of expanded funding and emphasis of AIDS research by the federal government.