Former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, Donald Trump’s choice for director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, brings not only anti-immigrant but anti-LGBTQ ideology with him.
Administration officials told The Washington Post that Trump will nominate Cuccinelli to the position, from which L. Francis Cissna resigned Friday, at the president’s request. Cissna, whose resignation is effective June 1, had been the target of frequent criticism from Stephen Miller, a senior policy adviser to Trump. Among other things, Miller has “faulted Cissna for moving too slowly in implementing new rules that would penalize immigrants who use public benefits,” according to the Post, and has contended Cissna does not share the administration’s goals. However, the position requires Senate confirmation, and even some Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, are less than enthused about Cuccinelli.
Cuccinelli, a Republican, has no experience with enforcement of immigration law, but he does support Trump’s stances on it. Like Trump, he has proposed ending birthright citizenship — the policy that any child born in the U.S. is a citizen, regardless of whether the child’s parents are. Also like Trump, he has expressed doubt that Barack Obama was born in the USA — if Obama was not, he would have been ineligible to be president — but eventually had to back away from that position.
Cuccinelli’s anti-LGBTQ record is extensive. As attorney general of Virginia, a post he held from 2010 to 2014, he defended the state’s antisodomy law, even though all such laws had been invalidated by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2003 Lawrence v. Texas ruling. Cuccinelli argued that the Virginia law, which remained on the books even after Lawrence, was necessary to prosecute adults who engaged in or sought oral or anal sex with minors, even though other laws could be used to prosecute them. (Earlier, as a state legislator, he opposed a revision to the law that would have decriminalized so-called sodomy between consenting adults.) The attorney general took his appeal all the way to the high court in 2013, but the court declined to hear it.
Also in 2013, he ran for governor of Virginia. During a televised debate with Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe (who ended up winning the election), moderator Judy Woodruff asked Cuccinelli if he still believes that “same-sex acts are against nature and harmful to society,” as he said when he was a state senator running for attorney general in 2009. His answer was “My personal beliefs about the personal challenge of homosexuality haven’t changed.” The Republican candidate for lieutenant governor in 2013 was E.W. Jackson, a minister who said gay people have “perverted” minds and are “very sick people psychologically, mentally, and emotionally.” Ralph Northam defeated him. The ticket of Cuccinelli and Jackson earned a Phobie Award from The Advocate that year.
Among Cuccinelli’s other homophobic statements: “When you look at the homosexual agenda, I cannot support something that I believe brings nothing but self-destruction, not only physically but of their soul.” And: “You can’t have safe homosexual sex. There is no such thing.” He has also said “homosexual acts” are “intrinsically wrong” and against “natural law.”
On his last day as attorney general in January 2014, Cuccinelli issued a nonbinding legal opinion that the new governor could not order Virginia officials to accept joint state tax returns from same-sex couples legally married in other states. He argued that Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage took priority over federal law, which by then recognized same-sex marriages thanks to the Supreme Court’s ruling striking down the main part of the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013. But later in 2014 Virginia’s ban was also struck down in court, so marriage and all its benefits became available to all couples in the state.
His far-right, anti-LGBTQ activism has continued since he left office. He is currently president of the Senate Conservatives Fund, which donates to candidates who support “limited government, a strong national defense, and traditional family values,” according to its website. It has backed U.S. senators including Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Tom Cotton, and Marsha Blackburn. It’s now on a crusade against the Equality Act, claiming the LGBTQ civil rights bill “would undermine women’s rights, parental rights, religious rights, and actually hurt kids suffering from gender confusion.”
Cuccinelli’s anti-LGBTQ stances could inform immigration policy, given that many migrants and asylum-seekers are fleeing homophobic or transphobic persecution, and that at least one trans immigrant has died in the custody of immigration authorities. Even with a Republican-majority Senate, though, his confirmation isn’t a foregone conclusion. McConnell, for instance, is no fan of his. When it was rumored that Cuccinelli might be nominated for a higher position, secretary of Homeland Security, McConnell said, “I have expressed my, shall I say, lack of enthusiasm for one of them ... Ken Cuccinelli,” according to the Post. And sources told The New York Times that he has little chance of confirmation.