Donald Trump’s selection of Mike Pence as his running mate brings something to the Republican ticket that the religious right has long wanted: Somebody who really, really doesn’t like the LGBTQ community.
In early 2013, the Republican National Committee issued a “Growth and Opportunity Project” report (Get it: “GOP”!) on its performance in the 2012. Commonly known as the party’s “autopsy report” of their defeat at the hands of President Obama, one of the things it called for was a greater openness to cultural change.
“Already, there is a generational difference within the conservative movement about issues involving the treatment and the rights of gays,” the report said, “and for many younger voters, these issues are a gateway into whether the Party is a place they want to be.”
It didn’t actually endorse marriage equality — that would’ve been in direct opposition to the Republican platform itself — but even this call for pluralism riled up the hard Christian right.
And now, they’ve nominated Mike Pence for VP.
Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, told reporters in a conference call last Friday, the day the Pence’s selection was officially announced: “The Trump-Pence ticket is the gravest threat the LGBTQ community has ever faced in a presidential election.”
Griffin added that Pence has made “attacking the rights and dignity of LGBTQ people as a cornerstone of his career,” and that he is “the face of LGBTQ hate in America; the face of discrimination in America; and now he’s the face of the GOP ticket.”
Pence made national headlines in early 2015, when he signed a “religious freedom” law that likely would have given full legal blessing to anti-LGBTQ discrimination by private businesses. The law triggered a massive national backlash, including the potential loss of corporate conventions and even jeopardizing the future of the NCAA Final Four tournament. (And in Indiana, college basketball is practically a religion itself!)
In a widely-panned interview on ABC’s This Week, Pence was repeatedly unable to answer George Stephanopoulos’s basic question as to whether the law officially allowed discrimination against LGBTQ people — even after George read a release from a religious-right group in Indiana that declared this as an accomplishment.
Soon afterward, Pence backed away and signed a new set of amendments that declared the law couldn’t be cited as a justification for anti-LGBTQ discrimination — a move that ultimately pleased nobody. (The religious right hated that Pence had “surrendered,” while progressives noted that Indiana still did not actually have any anti-discrimination law statewide.) All in all, even this brief controversy was estimated to have cost the state’s economy $60 million.
But Pence’s hostility to LGBTQ people goes back much, much further.
As BuzzFeed highlighted, Pence declared during his first successful campaign for Congress in 2000 that federal funding for the major HIV/AIDS treatment program should only be renewed if the programs involved did not affirm gay people — and they even ought to pay for (scientifically debunked, and aggressively harmful) conversion/reparative “therapy” instead.
Congress should support the reauthorization of the Ryan White Care Act only after completion of an audit to ensure that federal dollars were no longer being given to organizations that celebrate and encourage the types of behaviors that facilitate the spreading of the HIV virus. Resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.
In 2004, while speaking on the House Floor in favor of the GOP’s proposed amendment to the Constitution that would have outlawed nationwide any legal recognition of same-sex marriage, Pence declared that, “the U.S. Supreme Court provided potent ammunition to activists when they decided the Lawrence vs. Texas case in June of last year,” which had overturned state laws criminalized gay sex. “Scholars ranging from Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia all the way to Harvard liberal scholar and author Laurence Tribe agree that the Lawrence vs. Texas case paves the way for this Supreme Court in this nation’s capital to recognize same sex marriage.”
In 2006, he delivered another floor statement in favor of the amendment to the Constitution that would have outlawed nationwide any legal recognition of same-sex marriage. “Like millions of Americans, I believe that marriage matters. That it was ordained by God, instituted among men, that it’s the glue of the American family, and the safest harbor to raise children,” Pence said. (More on that “safe harbor” line later.)
“I believe first, though, that marriage should be protected because it wasn’t our idea. Several millennia ago, the words were written that ‘a man should leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife and the two should become one flesh,'” Pence said. “It wasn’t our idea, it was God’s idea, and I say that unashamedly on a floor where the words ‘In God We Trust’ appear above your chair, Mr. Speaker.
An excerpt from Pence’s speech is featured below.
But not to worry, Pence said — he didn’t hold it against anybody who (he said) chose to be gay: “And let me say emphatically that this debate today is not about discrimination. I believe that if someone chooses another lifestyle than I have chosen, that is their right in a free society. But tolerance does not require that we permit our courts to redefine an institution upon which our society depends.”
But what was Pence’s reaction when the issue of a “safe harbor” for children came up in the Republican House itself: The Mark Foley scandal, in which a congressman had been sexting with teenage house pages, and the GOP leadership had refused to respond to complaints about it?
In fact, Pence defended the handling of this scandal by another paragon of morality — Speaker Dennis Hastert.
From The Indianapolis Star, Oct. 5, 2006:
“Regardless of our reservations about how this matter was handled administratively, we believe Speaker Hastert is a man of integrity who has led our conference honorably and effectively throughout the past eight years,” Pence said in a joint statement with Rep. Joe Pitts, R-Pa. “Speaker Dennis Hastert should not resign.” Pence declined through a spokesman to say what his reservations are about how the matter was handled.
Later on, in 2009, when the Democratic Congress passed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act (passed as an amendment to the Defense appropriations bill), Pence delivered a floor statement that lambasted the bill as a violation of religious freedom to preach against gay people — and interestingly, he included the freedom of Muslims in this regard. (We do wonder what the typical Donald supporter would have to say about this.)
“Therefore, to put a fine point on it, any pastor, preacher, priest, rabbi, or imam, who may give a sermon out of their moral traditions about sexual practices, could presumably under this legislation be found to have aided, abetted or induced in the commission of a federal crime,” Pence said. “This will have a chilling effect on religious expression, from the pulpits, in our temples, in our mosques and in our churches. And it must be undone.”
“But let me also say, as I said before, a defense authorization bill ought to be about the national defense,” Pence concluded — as he explained why he, as a conservative Republican, was about to vote against a military supply bill. “Here we have, in this Majority, in an effort to move liberal social policies at home, a willingness to pile unrelated liberal priorities on the backs of an effort to advance our national security. That is unconscionable.
“Let us remember what our soldiers are fighting for. Let us remember why they put on the uniform. They wear the uniform to defend freedom. So let’s take a stand for freedom today. And let us take a stand for a legislative process that has genuine integrity to purpose. I urge my colleagues to vote against the rule, and I sadly urge my colleagues to vote against the defense authorization bill.”
Yes, we must defend freedom — for the right kind of people.
(Additional reporting by Melissa McEwan.)