CLEVELAND — The third night of the Republican National Convention featured unprecedented LGBT inclusion from speakers on stage, but that embrace was undercut by the arrival of vice presidential nominee Mike Pence, who has a long anti-LGBT record.
Pence accepted the No. 2 position on his party’s ticket and failed to mention the “religious freedom” bill he signed just last year to enable anti-LGBT discrimination. That law sparked outrage from LGBT advocates and the business community, forcing him to sign a “fix” limiting its scope.
The omission was most glaring during a portion of his speech on the economic prosperity he says Indiana has enjoyed during his tenure as governor.
“Indiana is a state that works because conservative principles work every time you put them into practice,” Pence said. “Today, while the nation suffers under the weight of $19 trillion in a national debt, we in Indiana have a $2 billion surplus, the highest credit rating in the nation, even though we cut taxes every year since I became governor four years ago.”
Pence also made the case that Trump would appoint conservative justices to the Supreme Court, raising fears about the judiciary using “unaccountable power to take unconstitutional actions.” Although Pence didn’t mention the Supreme Court decision in favor of same-sex marriage, conservative critics have charged that was one of the rulings in which justices overstepped their bounds.
Jim Obergefell, lead plaintiff in the lawsuit that won marriage equality nationwide and a supporter of Hillary Clinton, said in a statement the impact of Pence’s decision to sign the law shouldn’t be forgotten.
“Donald Trump’s selection of Mike Pence is a clear message to the LGBTQ community in Ohio and across the country: he doesn’t believe we matter and he doesn’t believe we count,” Obergefell said.
“In Indiana, Pence supported, fought for, and signed into law the ability for businesses to discriminate against individual members of the LGBTQ community. Trump and Pence are in lockstep when it comes to repealing marriage equality and opposing non-discrimination protections. Together, they represent the most divisive ticket I can imagine.”
Speakers include LGBT people in unprecedented way
Other speakers on the third day of the convention referenced LGBT people in their remarks in an unprecedented way for a Republican National Convention, although that’s a low threshold considering the harsh anti-LGBT attacks in years past.
Lynne Patton, vice president of the Eric Trump Foundation, invoked the LGBTQ acronym three times and said during the recent mass shooting in Orlando an Islamic terrorist “targeted members of the LGBTQ community.”
Patton said, “As a minority, I personally pledge to you that Donald Trump knows that your life matters, he knows that my life matters, he knows that LGBTQ lives matter and he knows that veterans’ lives matter and he knows that blue lives matter.”
Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the U.S. House and failed 2012 Republican presidential candidate, took note in his remarks of anti-LGBT persecution at the hands of Islamic extremists.
“If our enemies had their way, gays, lesbians and transgender citizens would be put to death as they are today in the Islamic State and Iran,” Gingrich said.
But those words come from the same Republican who saw the Defense of Marriage Act become law under his leadership as speaker in 1996, called marriage equality a “temporary aberration” and signed a pledge committing himself to support a U.S. constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage nationwide.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott made an emotional appeal for support for Trump based on the shooting in his state at a gay nightclub that left 49 people dead and 53 wounded.
“I cried with the grieving moms and dads and brothers and sisters of the 49 people slaughtered by an ISIS-inspired terrorist,” Scott said. “This war is real. It is here in America. And the next president must destroy this evil.”
Last month, Scott acknowledged exclusively to the Washington Blade that gays and Latinos were the targets of the Orlando shooting, but his words ignore his own lack of support for marriage equality and non-discrimination protections for LGBT people.
Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said on Twitter the LGBT inclusion on stage at the convention was heinous considering the anti-LGBT positions of the party and the speakers.
While some speakers made an effort for LGBT inclusion, others pledged Trump would pursue policies that might undermine LGBT rights.
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, making the case the president should obey the law, said she knows Trump and feels assured he’d “roll back Obama’s unconstitutional executive orders.” That could apply to executive actions Obama has undertaken on behalf of LGBT rights, including a 2014 executive order prohibiting federal contractors from engaging in anti-LGBT workplace discrimination.
Bondi also said Trump would “appoint conservative justices who will defend, rather than rewrite, our Constitution.” Although she didn’t explicitly identify the Supreme Court’s decision, the ruling was implied.
Although Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) didn’t make a live appearance at the convention, he also hinted at the possibility of Trump reversing the Supreme Court marriage ruling based on judicial appointments.
“Unlike Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, he is committed to appointing constitutionalist judges who will respect the proper role of the judiciary,” Rubio said.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) was more clever, invoking gay inclusion in a way that actually served to undermine LGBT rights.
“Freedom means religious freedom, whether you are Christian or Jew, Muslim or atheist,” Cruz said. “Gay or straight, the Bill of Rights protects the rights of all of us to live according to our conscience.”
Cruz suggested “religious freedom” should take precedence over gay rights. That would be consistent with his presidential campaign in which he spurned civil rights laws penalizing businesses owned by individuals who refused service to LGBT people for religious reasons.
Cruz also made a veiled threat to the Supreme Court marriage decision when he said courts shouldn’t make the states take uniform action throughout the country.
“Freedom means recognizing that our Constitution allows states to choose policies that reflect local values,” Cruz said. “Colorado may decide something different than Texas. New York different than Iowa. Diversity. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. If not, what’s the point of having states to begin with?”
At the end of his speech, Cruz made headlines when he was booed by convention attendees. After a bruising primary with Trump, Cruz said during his speech attendees should go to the polls on Nov. 8, but told them “vote your conscience,” not necessarily for Trump.
John Fluharty, who’s gay and former chair of the Delaware Republican Party, said the LGBT-inclusive words from speakers at the Republican National Convention don’t make up for policy positions.
“Dribbling out a little lip service in front of the TV cameras does not, and should not, distract attention away from the fact that LGBTQ Republicans need to double-down on efforts to bring change to the GOP,” Fluharty said. “Just because we were thrown a bone tonight doesn’t mean we should unleash our checkbooks or manpower until the party commits to inclusion and the protection of our civil rights.”
Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents’ Association.