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Pete Buttigieg Is Fighting, and Winning, a Battle Over Religion With Mike Pence

The VP says he doesn’t discriminate against anyone. Millions of LGBTQ Americans aren’t likely to agree

South Bend mayor and 2020 presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg is calling out Vice President Mike Pence on his anti-LGBTQ record.

Kristin Callahan/ACE Pictures/Shutterstock; Cliff Owen/AP/Shutterstock

Pete Buttigieg is scheduled to officially announce his candidacy for president this weekend. The 37-year-old South Bend, Indiana, mayor has been steadily climbing in the polls — and in our 2020 Democratic candidate leaderboard — since announcing in January that he was forming a committee to explore his chances of landing the party’s nomination.

But it wasn’t until March that Buttigieg’s transformation from long-shot with a hard-to-pronounce last name to legitimate contender began in earnest. During a CNN town hall event at South by Southwest, Buttigieg, an openly gay Christian, was lauded for his deft performance, including how he questioned Mike Pence’s adherence to his faith, wondering whether the pious vice president stopped “believing in scripture when he started believing Donald Trump.”

“How would he allow himself to become the cheerleader for the porn star presidency?” said Buttigieg. The comments drew national headlines. They were also not the last he would make regarding Pence’s Christianity. The latest shots came during a Friday appearance on Ellen, a preview of which was released Thursday.

“I don’t have a problem with religion,” Buttigieg said. “I’m religious too. I have a problem with religion being used as a justification to harm people and especially in the LGBTQ community. So many people, even today, feel like they don’t belong. You can get fired in so many parts of this country just for who you are, and that’s got to change. I’m not interested in feuding with the vice president, but if he wanted to clear this up he could come out today and say he’s changed his mind that it shouldn’t be legal to discriminate against anybody in this country for who they are. That’s all.”

Buttigieg has an up-close understanding of the ways Pence has sought to discriminate against LGBTQ Americans. The vice president’s run as governor of Indiana overlapped with Buttigieg’s tenure as the mayor of South Bend.

As governor, Pence fought to prevent same-sex couples from obtaining equal parenting rights; supported a measure to ban same-sex marriage in the state; and signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which allowed business owners to refuse service to potential LGBTQ customers. His views have carried over into the White House. In January, Pence defended his wife’s decision to take a job teaching at a school that bars LGBTQ students and faculty, calling criticism of their affiliation with the school “deeply offensive.”

The Ellen appearance was the second time Buttigieg has gone after the vice president this week. While speaking at an event hosted by the LGBTQ Victory Fund on Sunday, he again pointed out Pence’s hypocrisy and said that his marriage to his husband Chasten has moved him “closer to God.”

“You may be religious and you may not,” Buttigieg continued. “But if you are, and you are also queer, and you have come through the other side of a period of wishing that you weren’t, then you know that that message, this idea that there is something wrong with you, is a message that puts you at war not only with yourself but with your maker. Speaking only for myself, I can tell you that if me being gay was a choice, it was a choice that was made far, far above my pay grade. That’s the thing I wish the Mike Pences of the world would understand. If you got a problem with who I am, your problem is not with me. Your quarrel, sir, is with my creator.”

Pence responded earlier this week. “He said some things that are critical of my Christian faith and about me personally,” he told CNBC. “And he knows better. He knows me.”

Pence addressed Buttigieg’s comments again on Friday morning. He couldn’t do much other than deny the discrimination that has defined his political career. “I’ve known Mayor Pete for many years,” he told CNN. “We’ve worked very closely together when I was governor and I considered him a friend and he knows I don’t have a problem with him. I don’t believe in discrimination against anybody. I treat everybody the way that I want to be treated.”

Millions of LGBTQ Americans aren’t likely to agree.

 

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