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Pence at Religious Right Meeting: Trump Is 'Unwavering Ally'

Mike Pence

The vice president focused on "religious freedom" and abortion in a speech to Focus on the Family.

Anti-LGBT sentiments didn't come up except by inference in Vice President Mike Pence's speech today to Focus on the Family, but "religious freedom" and opposition to abortion were focal points.

"You have an unwavering ally in President Donald Trump," Pence told those gathered for the Christian right group's 40th anniversary celebration at its headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colo. Pence is the highest-ranking elected official ever to address a Focus event, The Denver Post reports.

Pence touted Trump's issuance in May of a "religious freedom" order aimed at expanding churches' right to speak on political issues without being penalized by the federal government. It will protect "the God-given right of all people to live out your faith in the public square," Pence said.

The order didn't include something many observers expected -- language creating a "license to discriminate" against LGBT people and others who offend the religious beliefs of an individual, business, or nonprofit organization. Some members of the religious right said the order therefore didn't go far enough, although it did provide a broad directive to the U.S. attorney general to interpret antidiscrimination law, something that could bode ill for LGBT rights.

Pence said much more about the Trump administration's stance against abortion. The administration is committed to protecting the "most vulnerable" Americans, he said, including the unborn. Trump is "a president who stands without apology for the sanctity of human life," the vice president told the group.

He noted Trump's reinstatement of the so-called Mexico City policy, which withholds U.S. aid from organizations that provide abortions or even information about the procedure in other countries. He also mentioned that the U.S. has pulled out of the United Nations Population Fund, as "American taxpayers should not have to support abortion in China or anywhere else."

He further pointed to the passage of a law allowing states to withhold federal funds from Planned Parenthood, a measure on which the vice president cast the tie-breaking vote in the Senate. "Later this same year, when we repeal and replace Obamacare, we're going to defund Planned Parenthood once and for all," he said -- even though the replacement measures introduced so far have little chance of passing.

"Life is winning in America again," he said.

Pence additionally painted the Trump administration as a defender of persecuted Christians abroad against so-called radical Islamic terrorism, claiming the current administration had taken a stronger stance against terrorists than President Obama did. And he spoke proudly of the appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The absence of overt anti-LGBT rhetoric may indicate that Pence and Trump know it doesn't go over well with many Americans, although it would with the Focus audience. Pence has a long anti-LGBT record, both as a congressman and as governor of Indiana, where he signed into law a "religious freedom" bill that could have been used as a legal excuse for discrimination. The legislature amended the law after much public outcry. GLAAD tweeted extensively about Pence's homophobic record in conjunction with his speech.

The Trump-Pence administration has taken several actions that stand to harm LGBT people, such as withdrawing Obama-era guidance for schools on equal treatment of transgender students and making it more difficult to monitor whether companies doing business with the federal government engage in anti-LGBT discrimination -- in addition to the many policies that will harm women and other "vulnerable populations."

As a protest against the administration's stances against abortion and women's rights in general, about a dozen people dressed in the red robes and white bonnets worn by "handmaids" in The Handmaid's Tale and demonstrated peacefully outside the venue, the Post reports. The 1985 novel by Margaret Atwood, now adapted into a Netflix miniseries, portrays a dystopian version of the U.S. in which women have no rights and are valued solely for the viability of their reproductive organs. As many women have been rendered infertile by environmental disasters, those who still are able to become pregnant are assigned as handmaids to bear children for the nation's leaders.

"This community rejects hatred and bigotry in all its hideous forms," protest organizers wrote on Facebook. "Focus on the Family has fostered an environment of hostility towards the Colorado Springs LGBTQ community for decades, not to mention its promotion of strict 'traditional' gender roles, creationism in public schools, school prayer, and abstinence-only sex education."

Watch Pence's full speech below.

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