Indiana Gov. Mike Pence’s (R) decision to sign a controversial religious freedom bill has landed him in the crosshairs of gay rights proponents, both locally and nationally. But Pence’s latest move is consistent with his background of opposing gay rights legislation and championing “traditional” marriage.
Pence, recently, said he was surprised with the intensity of the backlash of the law, which bars Indiana from requiring businesses to serve gay people if the owners have religious objections. It’s a move that comes a little over a year after social conservatives lost a fight over adding a gay marriage ban to the state Constitution.
Where gay marriage is concerned, Pence has made a few statements that are pretty benign compared to many Republicans. In 2014, he said the question of same-sex marriage should be left up to the states rather than the federal government.
“In the state of Indiana, marriage is recognized as between a man and a woman, and I think that’s how it should remain,” Pence said in 2014 in an interview with MSNBC’s Chuck Todd.
However, after a federal appeals court ruling halting another court’s ruling striking down the state’s gay marriage ban, he also vowed that the state would not recognize same-sex couples.
Pence took the Indiana governor’s mansion in 2013, following his time in the House of Representatives, where he made opposition to gay rights in general, and gay marriage in particular, his standard practice.
In 2010, Pence signed an open letter by the anti-gay marriage Family Research Council that ran in Politico and the Washington Examiner expressing support for organizations that oppose same-sex marriage and “protect and promote natural marriage and family.” (A year earlier, the FRC’s Tony Perkins praised Pence for joining a private briefing with local pastors on efforts to pass a traditional “marriage protection amendment.” Perkins praised Pence as a “solid ally on this issue in the U.S. House.”)
In December 2010, Pence appeared on CNN and argued against repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the official U.S. military policy that governed service by gays and lesbians. He said that repealing the act would be using the American military “as a backdrop for social experimentation.”
“So I don’t believe the time has come to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Pence said. “I really believe our soldiers that are at the tip of the spear know that. We ought to put their interests and the interests of our national security first.”
Not surprisingly, during his time in the House, Pence voted “yes” on legislation defining marriage as only between one man and one woman, and he opposed legislation that prohibited workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation.
In 2011, an opinion piece by Wendy Kaminer in The Atlantic quoted Pence arguing that the Employment Non-Discrimination Act “wages war on freedom of religion in the workplace.”
Even as the flow of businesses and national figures strongly criticizing the law has increased, Pence has said he doesn’t regret signing the law, although says he and local Republican lawmakers have begun looking into amending the legislation to say it is not meant to discriminate against anyone.
On Sunday, Pence appeared on ABC’s This Week. Host George Stephanopoulos immediately asked if it was a mistake to sign the law.
“Absolutely not,” Pence quickly said. He continued, “This is about protecting the religious liberty of people of faith and families of faith across this country. That’s what it’s been for more than 20 years and that’s what it is now as the law in Indiana now, George.”
Stephanopoulos also asked Pence if he would support adding sexual orientation to the group of protected classes listed under the state’s civil rights laws. Critics of Pence’s law point out that other states may have similar religious freedom laws but also include sexual orientation under protected classes.
“I will not push for that, that’s not on my agenda and that’s not been an agenda of the people of Indiana,” Pence said.
Pence’s office did not respond to request for comment from TPM.
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