Fact check: What is Mike Pence’s record on LGBT rights?
Vice President Mike Pence spoke up this week to hit back at critics of his record on LGBT rights.
After out Winter Olympic athlete Adam Rippon challenged his “anti-LGBT” record, Pence took to Twitter to insist it was all “fake news”.
In light of that, we thought we’d share some cold, hard facts.
So, what actually is the Vice President’s record on LGBT rights?
Does Mike Pence support gay cure therapy?
One of the most often-cited criticisms of Pence is his alleged support for conversion therapy – the discredited practice of turning gay people straight through religious therapy.
The idea even made it into an episode of Will & Grace. But is it true?
There are some pretty clear facts on this one, with Pence committing the matter to the public record while running for Congress in 2000.
On his campaign website, Pence called for the Ryan White Care Act – which provided care for HIV patients – to be amended to block funding for “organisations that celebrate and encourage the types of behaviours that facilitate the spreading of the HIV virus”, an apparent reference to LGBT groups.
He added: “Resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behaviour.”
In the 18 years since, this has been interpreted by many as Pence’s clear endorsement of the practice of gay ‘cure’ therapy.
And across nearly two decades, Pence did little to correct this interpretation of his words – that is, until he became Vice President-elect.
In December 2016, more than 16 years after he made the manifesto pledge, Pence’s new media team put out a statement claiming it was “patently false” he had been advocating conversion therapy on the campaign website.
Instead, the spokesperson claimed he had simply been calling for federal funds to “be directed to groups that promoted safe sexual practices”.
However, given that was the exact purpose of the law he was calling to be torn up, this does not ring true – and LGBT groups dismissed it as desperate obfuscation, more than a decade after the fact.
So, these are the facts: Pence called for HIV funding to be drained from programmes supporting LGBT people.
It was directly below two other pledges openly targeting LGBT people.
And instead, he wanted to fund groups that “change their sexual behaviour”.
It seems pretty clear to us what he meant, and if Pence had any objection to the public’s interpretation, it’s slightly strange it took him 16 years to say so.
Does Mike Pence support legal discrimination against gay people?
Another oft-touted criticism of Pence is that he thinks it should be legal to fire people for being gay.
On this, there’s plenty of evidence.
In 2007, while serving as a Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Indiana, Pence voted against the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a law which would have outlawed discrimination based on sexual orientation across the US, on grounds of religious freedom.
There’s also evidence dating to Pence’s time as Governor of Indiana between 2013 and 2017.
While serving as Governor, Pence signed Indiana’s controversial ‘Religious Freedom Restoration Act’, a law which allows religious people and businesses to cite their conscience as a defence in legal disputes.
Activists warned the law would be used by individuals and businesses to legally discriminate against the LGBT community on the basis of religion.
And Pence was fairly clear that the law was intended to “protect” organisations who wanted to refuse services to same-sex couples.
He said: “I support the freedom of religion for every Hoosier [Indiana citizen] of every faith.
“The Constitution of the United States and the Indiana Constitution both provide strong recognition of the freedom of religion but today, many people of faith feel their religious liberty is under attack.”
Lobbyists from anti-LGBT groups including the American Family Association and the Indiana Family Institute, who support the abolition of same-sex unions and ‘freedom to discriminate’ laws, were among the guests that Pence invited to witness the bill signing.
The Act led to immediate criticism from Apple CEO Tim Cook, and boycott threats from a string of businesses that invest in the state, leading to a later amendment reducing its impact on LGBT people.
Pence also appeared unable to answer when asked whether it should be legal to fire people because of their sexuality in a subsequent interview.
In a clip, Pence was asked: “Yes or no: do you believe gay and transgender people should be able to be fired from their jobs just for that reason only?”
After an awkward ten-second silence, Pence attempted to stall, responding: “It’s a great privilege to be your Governor.”
Fudging a response, he said: “My position as I expressed in the state of the State address is that we are a state with a constitution, and as you know… that constitution has very strong safeguards for freedom of conscience and freedom of religion.”
Does Mike Pence want to roll back protections for LGBT people?
The Trump administration has done more than any other to undermine civil rights protections for people on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Much of the heavy lifting is being undertaken by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a Pence ally who has used his position to shift the government’s legal stance.
Under Sessions’ leadership, Justice officials have argued in court that there should be no discrimination protections for LGBT people.
While Pence’s hand is unclear, it appears to align pretty closely with exactly what he vowed to do before the elections.
During the Presidential campaign, Pence backed plans to roll back protections on LGBT rights, claiming it was important in order for “the transgender bathroom issue to be resolved with common sense at the local level”.
He said: “This is such an example of an administration that seems to have… there’s no area of our lives too small for them to want to regulate, no aspect of our constitution too large for them to ignore.
“Donald Trump and I both believe these questions can be resolved with common sense at the local level.
“These issues are resolved in the state of Indiana whenever they come up, and they should be resolved, for the safety and well-being of our children first and foremost, their privacy and rights, and with common sense. Donald Trump and I simply believe all of these issues are best resolved at the state level, by communities.”
He added: “Washington has no business intruding on the operation of our local schools. It’s just one more example of the heavy hand of this administration, and Donald Trump and I will stand by that common-sense people that when it comes to our kids, and the operation of our schools, those decisions should be made at the local level.
“Washington DC has no business imposing its bill and its values on communities around the nation.”
Did Mike Pence oppose hate crime protections for gay people?
This one is also on the record books.
While serving as a Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Indiana in 2009, Pence voted against the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
The Act, named in honour of murdered gay teen Matthew Shepard, was the first law to expand the legal definition of a hate crime to include acts based on sexual orientation.
It also afforded the government powers to pursue federal charges against criminals in states with no hate crime protections for gay people – and has since led to a number of convictions of homophobic criminals.
While 18 Republicans sided with the Democrats to vote for the law, Pence cast his own vote against.
While later serving as Governor of Indiana, he also opposed hate crime protections for LGBT people.
Matthew Shepard’s mother Judy later spoke out against Pence and Trump, during the election campaign.
Does Mike Pence oppose same-sex marriage?
As Governor of Indiana, Pence fought tooth-and-nail against lawsuits from gay couples seeking to marry in the state.
He dedicated considerable resources to the fighting the cases, ordering officials not to recognise gay unions despite an early court ruling – before calling for “a constitutional amendment on the ballot” defining marriage as between marriage as excluding gay couples.
Pence said: “I believe marriage is the union between a man and a woman and is a unique institution worth defending in our state and nation.
“For thousands of years, marriage has served as the glue that holds families and societies together and so it should ever be.”
After equal marriage came to all 50 states in Supreme Court case Obergefell v Hodges, Pence noted: “Under our system of government, our citizens are free to disagree with decisions of the Supreme Court, but we are not free to disobey them.”
While he is no longer publicly calling for equal marriage to be outlawed, since becoming Vice President Pence has supported the nomination of more ultra-conservative justices to the courts.
The replacement of just one liberal justice on the Supreme Court with a conservative would be enough to tip the consensus of the court against marriage equality – a strategy openly endorsed by anti-LGBT groups.
What does Mike Pence personally think about gay people?
So, his legislative record is not great – but he seemed perfectly civil when he met the gay son of Democrat Doug Jones.
And amid criticism from gay figure skater Adam Rippon, Pence has remained mostly polite – reaching out to the Olympian in a bid to smooth things over.
But just because he is capable of talking to a gay person without bursting into flames, don’t assume that Pence holds no personal animus towards gay people.
It’s hard to gauge the personal beliefs of a person who has been in politics for decades – but Pence was pretty candid when he was the head of the Indiana Policy Review journal in the 90s.
Pence headed the IPR from 1991 to 1994.
In the journal, Pence himself penned an article lamenting “an endless line of pro-choice women, AIDS activists and proponents of affirmative action” at the GOP convention.
And in an item published under Pence’s tenure in the December 1993 issue, the publication criticised The Wall Street Journal for taking part in a job fair for gay journalists.
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It suggested that “gaydom” was a “pathological condition”, arguing that gay journalists would be biased in their coverage because of their sexuality.
It argued: “The more extreme of the gay movement consider themselves members of a sexual determined political party.”
Meanwhile 1993’s August edition of IPR included an article attacking gay people serving in the army.
It claimed: “Homosexuals are not as a group able bodied. They are known to carry extremely high rates of disease brought on because of the nature of their sexual practices and the promiscuity which is a hallmark of their lifestyle.”
These views did not appear to be particularly controversial or objectionable to Pence.