On Thursday, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was invited on the talk show to discuss politics with the hosts. Their conversation turned to abortion rights and same-sex marriage rights, which led to a discussion of Mr Graham and his new bill that would ban abortion nationwide.
"Senator Graham said maybe about a month ago, in early August, that he believes, when it comes to marriage, when it comes to abortion, it's for the states to decide, so, Senator Graham, what changed?" Ms Jean-Pierre asked during the show.
Goldberg responded: "Well, maybe he's getting married? Do it quick, because I know people are fooling around with our marriage rights, wherever you stand.”
The show paused for a commercial, and when it returned Goldberg looked to the camera and explained her joke.
"I need to make clear that I was doing what I do as a comic. Sometimes I make jokes, and it was a joke, nothing more than that," she said. "I just got a whole conversation about people misunderstanding the joke. I mean, okay. I should probably never do this show again, if this is what it's coming to. It was a joke, guys."
Goldberg did not say who she had a "whole conversation" with during the break.
The joke was likely a reference to a persistent rumour, often spread in liberal circles, that Mr Graham is a closeted gay man. The rumours often focus how Mr Graham is unmarried, has never had children, and draw on stereotypes about the mannerisms of gay men. According to the Washington Post, in 2020 a gay adult film star claimed that Mr Graham often hired male sex workers, and was even known within the community as “Mr G.”
The Independent has reached out to Mr Graham for comment.
Comedian Bill Maher also invoked the rumour about Mr Graham in 2019, dedicating an entire segment on his late night show Politically Incorrect to suggesting that the senator is gay.
In a segment called "24 things you don't know about me" which was presented as though Mr Graham had written it himself, Maher needled the senator. Some of the items on the list joked that Mr Graham burns calories by "skipping to work," and that he employs a dozen pool boys "even though I don't own a pool."
Whether or not it's acceptable to lampoon Mr Graham over the rumours is a matter of opinion. What is a matter of fact is that Mr Graham's abortion bill has caused alarm among some doctors, who said they feared it would set off a healthcare crisis in America.
The Associated Press obtained a preliminary analysis of the bill's impact, should it get passed, authored by Jennifer Klein, the White House Gender Policy Council chair.
“If passed and enacted, this bill would create a nationwide health crisis, imperiling the health and lives of women in all 50 states,” she wrote. “It would transform the practice of medicine, opening the door to doctors being thrown in jail if they fulfill their duty of care to patients according to their best medical judgment.”
Mr Graham's bill would effectively ban abortion across the US with limited exceptions. However, it is also likely dead in the water as Democrats control both the House and the Senate and would never allow such a bill to survive and GOP leaders were hesitant to back it.
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