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Pence Dodges Question on Anti-LGBT "Religious Freedom" Order

Mike Pence

In an interview aired Super Bowl Sunday, Vice President Mike Pence handed the ball off when asked if he expects President Donald Trump to issue an anti-LGBT so-called religious freedom executive order.

“I think that’ll be the purview of the president,” Pence said when George Stephanopoulos asked him about the possibility of such an order on ABC’s This Week.

Last week a draft of an order with anti-LGBT language circulated in the media; it was first obtained by The Nation. It would allow businesses, nonprofits, and even government employees to discriminate, without repercussions, against anyone who offends certain religious beliefs. The beliefs include opposition to same-sex marriage, any sex outside marriage, transgender identity, and abortion.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer has said there are no plans for such an order right now but has said a variety of orders are always under consideration, therefore leaving the door open. LGBT and civil liberties groups have been quick to decry it, and constitutional scholars have said it likely is beyond the scope of what a president is allowed to do via executive order. But religious right activists are pushing it. It is similar to a pending piece of federal legislation, the First Amendment Defense Act, which Trump has said he would sign if it is passed by Congress.

Pence has much experience with a type of “religious freedom” law that actually amounts to a license to discriminate. He signed such a measure into law in 2015, while he was governor of Indiana. After much public outcry and boycotts of the state, the law was amended so that it would ostensibly not allow discrimination.

Stephanopoulos also asked Pence about another LGBT-related matter, Trump’s decision to maintain President Obama’s executive order banning anti-LGBT discrimination by companies that hold contracts with the federal government. The host quoted Iowa-based right-wing activist Bob Vander Plaats, who said, “Our base is wondering why Obama’s executive order is allowed to stand.”

“I think throughout the campaign, President Trump made it clear that discrimination would have no place in our administration,” Pence responded. “He was the very first Republican nominee to mention the LGBTQ community at our Republican National Convention and was applauded for it. And I was there applauding with him.”

Pence’s words may ring rather hollow, considering his long record of opposing LGBT rights, both as Indiana governor and earlier as a congressman. And given Trump’s opposition to marriage equality and support for the First Amendment Defense Act, he is not exactly an LGBT ally either.

“As with most things this administration has asserted, this stands in stark contrast with reality,” a Human Rights Campaign blog post said of the “discrimination would have no place in our administration” statement. And Eliel Cruz, an LGBT rights and faith activist, told the Washington Blade, “The Trump administration will always choose the beliefs of anti-LGBT evangelicals over the dignity and rights of LGBT people.”

The Washington Post's editorial board also decried the so-called religious freedom order in a commentary posted online Sunday night. “It would ... be a huge mistake for the president to sign any executive order singling out specific beliefs, such as opposition to same-sex marriage, abortion or premarital sex, for special protection,” the Post wrote. “This would be a repugnant signal that such an order is meant to advance a certain set of religious doctrines and not others, and it could well violate the First Amendment’s establishment clause.”

Pence also discussed Trump’s promise to overturn the Johnson Amendment, a law that restricts political speech by clergy members; lauded his Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch; and defended the president’s order halting U.S. entry by people from seven majority-Muslim countries and refugees in general. That order has now been stayed nationwide by a federal judge. Watch the full segment below.

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