VP debate: Stark silence on LGBT issues

It’s safe to say that many LGBT people tuned into Tuesday night’s vice presidential debate, expecting there was a very good chance that discrimination against LGBT people would come up. That’s in large part due to the highly publicized struggle the Republican vice presidential nominee, Indiana Governor Mike Pence, went through just last year to mitigate the political and economic fallout over a new state law largely perceived to be anti-gay.

CBSN Moderator Elaine Quijano also signaled ahead of time that she would spend half of the 90-minute debate on “social issues.”

But Quijano did not ask about Pence’s struggle with the state Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and the only mention of LGBT people in the entire debate was when Democratic nominee, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine, made a brief reference to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s persecution of LGBT people.

Log Cabin Republican national President Gregory Angelo said he was surprised that Quijano didn’t ask Pence about the Religious Freedom bill controversy. Instead, near the end of the debate, she asked the two candidates to discuss one time when they struggled to balance their personal religious faith with their duty in public office.

Just last month, Kaine discussed at length the struggle he experienced in reconciling his Catholic faith’s opposition to marriage for same-sex couples while serving as governor of Virginia. He was speaking then to the national dinner of the Human Rights Campaign Fund. He noted that, as governor, he ultimately opposed members of the Virginia legislature who sought to amend the state constitution to ban marriage for same-sex couples.

But during Tuesday’s debate, before the national television audience, Kaine discussed his struggle as governor with upholding Virginia’s law allowing the death penalty even though his religious beliefs are opposed to the death penalty.

Earlier this year, Pence publicly discussed that he believes “no one should be harassed or mistreated because of who they are, who they love, or what they believe.” But, at the same time, he vowed to fight for the rights of “our citizens to live out their beliefs in worship, service or work.”

Pence used Quijano’s question to discuss his personal opposition to abortion and to criticize Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton for supporting the use of federal funds to pay for abortion-related expenses.

“I think most LGBT voters tuning into the debated expected to hear at least one question about Indiana’s Religious Freedom act,” said Angelo. “And they got zero. And Tim Kaine dropped the ball in that regard.” Kaine, he said, “had a tremendous opportunity to counter Pence’s response there.”

Other LGBT politicos also expressed exasperation that the issue wasn’t raised –either by the moderator or by Kaine.

“I don’t think that, because I’m gay, I was looking to hear more [on LGBT issues] than most people were,” said MSNBC’s openly lesbian political talk show host Rachel Maddow, in MSNBC’s post-debate discussion. “But Mike Pence is really famous for pushing the most aggressive pro-LGBT discrimination bill in the country [and] embarrassingly having to walk it back. When he was in Congress, he said that HIV and AIDS funding should not be dispersed unless federal dollars were also spent to try and cure people from being gay. I mean, he’s got a really, really, really radical position and history and current positions on gay issues –it didn’t come up at all.”

“You can’t have somebody who’s been a religious right warrior his entire public life,” said Maddow, “and get to one question on what was described as ‘social issues’ in the last three minutes of the debate….”

Nadine Smith, head of Equality Florida, said she was “disappointed that the moderator did not raise LGBT issues.”

“It is a stark and defining difference between the campaigns,” she said. “Pence has a stunningly bigoted record as the homophobically unhinged governor of Indiana.” Smith has written about Pence’s anti-LGBT record for a book being published by former U.S. Senator Bob Graham (D-Fla.).

Rich Tafel, former president of the national Log Cabin group, said he, too, was disappointed the issue didn’t come up.

“It represents a big issue in American life going forward, particularly the balance of religious liberty and gay protections,” said Tafel.

Aisha C. Moodie-Mills, head of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, agreed.

“It is important the Trump campaign’s extremist anti-LGBT positions be exposed in future debates – along with its attacks on women, immigrants, Latinos, Muslims, and veterans recovering from war,” said Moodie-Mills in a statement. “Their entire campaign has been built on fear and bigotry, and we believe voters will reject their attempts to turn back the clock on progress.”

Most political commentators said last night they think Pence won last night’s debate. Their reasoning, generally, was that, even though Pence often failed to answer the question on the table, he maintained a veneer of composure. Kaine got credit for answering the questions but he put off many viewers by repeatedly interrupting and talking over Pence.

“How can cable news ‘analysts’ praise Pence’s demeanor over his substance?” asked lesbian Democratic activist Hilary Rosen in a Twitter post following the debate.

Conservative gay political commentator Andrew Sullivan said that, while Pence was “denying some things that are categorically true,” the debate was a “huge win for Trump-Pence.”

Gay election data guru Nate Silver posted during the debate that “Pence could be setting himself up to win the actual debate but lose the post-debate debate.” He also added that vice presidential debates “don’t move the polls much even when they’re pretty good debates.”

An “instant poll” by CNN of people watching Tuesday night’s debate found Pence winning “narrowly.” Silver’s site, fivethirtyeight.com, reported Monday that Clinton made “meaningful gains” in the polls following her first debate with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. Silver is now predicting Clinton has a 75 percent chance of winning November 8, compared to Trump’s 25 percent. RealClearPolitics.com’s average of recent polls gives Clinton a 3.8-point lead over Trump.

Meanwhile, Log Cabin’s board of directors, which met last week in Washington, D.C., did not make a decision on whether to issue an endorsement in the campaign.

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