Buttigieg tackles gay questions in SC, polls lag

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Pete Buttigieg in Nevada Town Hall in February 2020 for CNN
Pete Buttigieg in Nevada Town Hall in February 2020 for CNN

Mayor Pete was asked questions that were LGBT-specific and quite personal

Presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg told a nationally broadcast town hall Monday night that he is “not running to be the gay president of the United States,” that he would “fiercely defend religious liberty” to a point, and that he realizes that “marriage equality came so fast that a lot of people were disoriented by it.”

Buttigieg was in front of an audience in Charleston, South Carolina, for a CNN Town Hall for an hour Monday night and fielded questions on a wide range of issues, from climate change to coronavirus. But for about seven minutes in the hour-long forum, he was asked questions that were LGBT-specific and, to some extent, quite personal.

The first of the LGBT questions came from a woman who identified herself as an LGBT American and a current supporter of U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren. She noted South Carolina’s  governor supported the granting of a federal waiver to allow faith-based foster care programs receiving federal funds to reject prospective parents who are LGBT.

“This ultimately harms the children in their care and discriminates against the LGBT community,” said the woman. “If elected, how do you intend to uphold the separation of church and state and work for these children?” asked the woman.

“It’s very simple. I believe that federal funding should never be used to discriminate,” said Buttigieg. “It is a basic principle. And here’s how I think about religious freedom more broadly. …It is so important to the fabric of this country that people of every religion and no religion can practice their faith to the best of their conscience. But, like any other freedom, that freedom ends where you begin to invoke it to harm other people.”

Buttigieg noted that his position was similar to that involving the freedom of speech; there are limits. There is no right to go into a crowded theater and shout “Fire!”

“I will fiercely defend religious liberty,” said Buttigeig, “but not past the point where it is being invoked as an excuse to harm other people through this kind of discrimination.”

CNN moderator Don Lemon pressed Buttigieg.

“Just to be clear, do you believe that other religious and non-profit institutions, like colleges and homeless charities should lose their federal funding if they refuse to hire or serve LGBT people?”

“Yes,” said Buttigieg. “If they are discriminating, then they should not be doing it with federal dollars.”

Lemon then called on an audience member, a woman who said she was undecided in the presidential primary. The woman said she had seen the “very moving moment” this past weekend when a nine-year-old boy attending a Buttigieg town hall in Denver asked Buttigieg to “help me tell the world I’m gay, too” because he wanted “to be brave like you.” The woman in Charleston asked whether Buttigieg had experienced other moments like that in the campaign and what the “most hopeful message” is that he has heard on the campaign trail.

Buttigieg said there have been “many moments” like that one, with people young and old and that “that whole thing… makes me hopeful.”

“Look, I’m under no illusions about the struggle for equality in this country for anyone, including for LGBTQ Americans.” He noted that, while marriage equality is the law of the land, there is still a need for the Equality Act and a need to “end the war on transgender Americans….”

“But what gives me hope is it’s really possible to see those prejudices overcome,” said Buttigieg. “…I recognize marriage equality came so fast that a lot of people were disoriented by it, especially if they grew up learning a certain way of looking at the world.…If we could bring people along…on an issue like that, it gives me great hope….”

CNN’s Lemon, who is also openly gay, asked Buttigieg whether he saw himself in the nine-year-old boy.

Buttigieg noted that he had been “wrestling” with his sexual orientation “well into my twenties.”

Repeating something that he said at a Victory Fund speech in Washington, D.C., last April, Buttigieg acknowledged that, “If there was a pill I could take and not be gay anymore, I would have jumped on it. But thank God, there wasn’t…[or] I would not have the amazing marriage I have now with Chasten.”

“When think about the effect this campaign is having on people,” started Buttigieg, who quickly jumped to another thought: “Look…I’m not running to be the gay president of the United States or the president of the Gay United States. I’m out here to serve everybody. But I do think about this fact,” that being gay “is one of the things that’s helping me make a difference.”

After racking up impressive polling numbers with voters generally during the past year, finishing first in the Iowa caucuses and second in the New Hampshire primary, Buttigieg came in third in last Saturday’s Nevada caucus –32 points behind frontrunner U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders.

The latest South Carolina polling, released by NBC, shows Buttigieg is in the single digits, trailing in fourth place behind former Vice President Joe Biden, Sanders, and businessman Tom Steyer. The South Carolina primary takes place this Saturday, February 29. But while many expected Buttigieg to do poorly in the heavily black and evangelical South Carolina, his polling numbers are beginning to lag badly in the critical Super Tuesday primaries, when voters in 14 states weigh in.

In most of the Super Tuesday states, Buttigieg is polling fifth among the field of seven Democratic presidential candidates considered to be still viable. In both California and Texas, the two largest of the Super Tuesday states, he’s polling fifth with eight percent.

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