The U.S. Senate today confirmed anti-LGBT politician Sam Brownback as ambassador for religious freedom, with Vice President Mike Pence casting a vote to break a partisan tie.
All 49 Democrats in the chamber voted against Brownback’s confirmation, and 49 Republicans voted in favor, with two Republican senators absent (John McCain and Bob Corker), so Pence, in the vice president’s capacity as president of the Senate, broke the tie, The Washington Post reports.
Brownback, who racked up a far-right, intensely anti-LGBT record as governor of Kansas and, before that, as a U.S. senator from the state, was nominated by Donald Trump to the position last year, then renominated this year, as the Senate failed to vote on his confirmation in 2017 and Democrats would not allow his nomination to roll over into the new year.
Several Democrats expressed concern about Brownback’s ideology. “I just think that it’s really important if you’re going to be the ambassador trying to promote tolerance that you show that kind of attitude, and his difficulty with the question about using religion as an excuse to persecute or prosecute people who are gay, that was a disqualifier,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, according to The Kansas City Star. Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey also spoke out against Brownback’s anti-LGBT positions.
During a confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in October, Brownback refused to answer Sen. Tim Kaine’s question on if there were “any circumstance under which religious freedom can justify criminalizing, imprisoning, or executing somebody based on their LGBT status could be deemed acceptable because somebody asserts they are religiously motivated in doing so,” notes the Human Rights Campaign. HRC and several other groups opposed his confirmation.
As governor of Kansas, Brownback attempted to block marriage equality in the state, even after the U.S. Supreme Court made its ruling for nationwide equality in June 2015. Brownback also rescinded a previous governor’s executive order protecting state employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, and he issued another order allowing social service organizations with state contracts or grants to discriminate against LGBT and other clients who somehow offend their religious sensibilities, without repercussions, if the organizations cite religious objections. Further, he signed into law a bill allowing student religious groups to discriminate, even at state-funded schools.
As a U.S. senator, he was an original cosponsor of a federal constitutional amendment that would have banned same-sex marriage, which he called a “social experiment” that would “take the sacredness out of marriage.” He opposed LGBT-inclusive hate-crimes legislation, saying he feared it would keep people from stating their opposition to homosexuality. He supported the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which kept gay, lesbian, and bisexual troops in the closet and in danger of discharge.
Brownback has been criticized in his home state because of many actions he took as governor, the Star reports. The Kansas Supreme Court has ruled that the state is underfunding its schools. The Brownback administration has privatized Medicaid and made it harder to qualify for public assistance, moves that critics say have hurt vulnerable populations. He cut taxes, but lower taxes failed to produce the promised job growth. However, they did create funding problems for the state government, and the legislature has repealed the cuts. And he signed into law a ban on the dilation and evacuation abortion procedure, commonly used in the second trimester; a court has blocked it from going into effect.
During the debate on Brownback’s confirmation, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said to Republican Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas, “C’mon, this guy screwed up your state,” the Star reports. Moran walked away, according to the paper.
The religious freedom ambassador is tasked with advocating for the rights of religious minorities around the world, particularly “in areas of religious conflict and oppression,” the Star notes. The post was created in 1998.
“This position has historically played an important role in combating the dangerous and often deadly religious persecution that plagues so many corners of our world,” said an HRC press release. “While this [is] an important mission, Brownback’s nomination demonstrates the Trump-Pence Administration is intent on changing the charge of the ambassador to instead be centered on discrimination.”
“For decades, Sam Brownback has attacked the LGBTQ community and worked to undermine fairness and equality. His extremist, anti-LGBTQ actions should disqualify him from representing the people of the United States,” said HRC government affairs director David Stacy in the release. “Donald Trump and Mike Pence are stacking the administration with anti-LGBTQ politicians determined to carry out their harmful and discriminatory policies. We are deeply disappointed that the Senate has chosen to confirm Brownback’s nomination.”
GLAAD also denounced Brownback’s confirmation. “There is a vast difference between combating the real and horrific persecution facing religious minorities across the globe and Brownback’s own record of distorting religious freedom to promote anti-LGBTQ discrimination,” said a statement issued by GLAAD president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis. “Brownback now joins the ranks of an administration fully committed to promoting religious exemptions as a weapon of discrimination against LGBTQ people and other vulnerable communities.”