LGBT issues weren’t front and center in tonight’s Republican presidential debate, but most of the attention they received was negative — including Donald Trump’s slam at a famous lesbian.
When moderator Megyn Kelly pointed out that Trump has called women he dislikes “fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals,” he responded, “Only Rosie O’Donnell.” After he received a disconcerting wave of applause and cheers and Kelly pointed out that it wasn’t only O’Donnell, Trump said the nation has too much “political correctness” and that many of his intemperate remarks are often “kidding” and “fun.” O’Donnell responded on Twitter; check out her comments here. And see video of Trump's comments below.
Elsewhere in the debate, Ohio Gov. John Kasich struck a rare note of tolerance about marriage equality; although opposed to it, he said, he accepts the June 26 Supreme Court ruling as established law. He also said he recently attended a friend’s same-sex wedding and that “of course” he’d love and accept a child of his who turned out to be gay. A video clip is at the bottom of this story.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee used the line “the Supreme Court is not the Supreme Being” when asked about both marriage equality and abortion rights, but didn’t go into detail. He has previously said states can and should ignore Supreme Court rulings, a position that’s on very shaky legal ground.
U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who has floated the idea of getting the government out of the marriage business altogether, touched on this when he said, “I don’t want my marriage or my guns registered in Washington.” Asked about religious freedom implications of LGBT rights, he condemned the city of Houston’s action in issuing subpoenas to obtain the content of sermons pastors who opposed its gay rights ordinance (the subpoenas came as part of the city’s defense in a court case and were eventually withdrawn).
Huckabee made predictably transphobic comments about service by transgender people in the military, something he’s already condemned, saying, “I’m not sure how paying for transgender surgery … makes our country safer.”
Some vocal opponents of LGBT rights, including retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, didn’t get much chance to address LGBT issues. Carson did call Hillary Clinton the epitome of a “secular progressive,” for all that implies, and Cruz said he would repeal President Obama’s “unconstitutional” executive orders on his first day in office, presumably including those having to do with anti-LGBT discrimination.
By and large, though, the prime-time debate saw candidates discussing federal spending (they say it’s excessive), foreign policy (they say Obama is weak), and illegal immigration, with Trump calling for the building of a wall and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush offering sympathy for undocumented workers but calling for strict enforcement of immigration laws. And there was a shouting match between Paul and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie over the Obama administration's collection of data on citizens.
The earlier “happy hour” debate, involving candidates who didn’t meet Fox News Channel’s criteria for inclusion in the prime-time forum, saw former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum and current Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal engage in familiar antigay rhetoric. Both said that as president they’d issue “religious freedom” orders so that, as Jindal put it, “Christian business owners and individuals don’t face discrimination for having a traditional view of marriage.” He issued one in his state after legislation to the same effect failed to pass.
Santorum also condemned the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling as a “rogue” decision and equated it with the pre–Civil War Dred Scott decision, which held that African-Americans had no citizenship rights. The marriage equality ruling “is not settled law, he said, “any more than Dred Scott was settled law to Abraham Lincoln, who in his first inaugural address said it won’t stand, and they went ahead and passed laws in direct contravention to a rogue Supreme Court.” Actually, these were no ordinary laws, but constitutional amendments.
All in all, there wasn’t much in either debate to make LGBT Americans more encouraged about the Republican field, said JoDee Winterhof, senior vice president of policy and political affairs at the Human Rights Campaign. “Tonight's comments from Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum, and Bobby Jindal — pledging to sign anti-LGBT executive orders on day one in the White House — sent an exceptionally troubling message to millions of LGBT Americans,” she said in a press release. “And by defending the ban on transgender military service in offensive terms, Mike Huckabee proved once again that he’s campaigning on hate. Countless LGBT families across Ohio and the nation want to know that our next president will defend their constitutional rights and fight for full federal equality. But sadly, tonight’s debate left far more questions than answers, and the answers we did get were deeply disappointing.”