The Christianity of various Republican presidential candidates became a focus in the South Carolina primary, implicating not only marriage but whether gays should be banned from immigrating to the U.S. Meanwhile, in the Nevada Democratic caucuses, the question of whether Hillary Clinton’s support for the rights of LGBT people is sincere or politically motivated resurfaced.
Real estate mogul Donald Trump won the South Carolina primary February 20, easily beating U.S. Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. The other three candidates registered only about seven percent support each, prompting one of them, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, to suspend his campaign. The five remaining candidates, including Ohio Governor John Kasich and neurosurgeon Ben Carson, leapt immediately into the GOP caucuses in Nevada Tuesday.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton won the Nevada caucuses Saturday, beating U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders by five percentage points.
It was in the run-up to those caucuses that a Sanders supporter in the audience of an MSNBC town hall told Clinton, “only a decade ago I was a very big supporter of yourself and your husband.”
“It actually broke my heart when you said marriage was between a man and a woman. How can we trust that this isn’t just more political rhetoric?”
In response to the questioner in Nevada, Clinton acknowledged, “I, like many Americans, have evolved. And, I’m glad I have. I am a 100 percent supporter…And I am absolutely adamant about protecting marriage equality. And, I think it’s significant that the Human Rights campaign, the leading organization in our country to ensure that the LGBT community has the rights they deserve, have endorsed me.
“Now, [Senator Sanders] said, ‘Well, that’s because [HRC is] a member of the establishment.’ Well, with all due respect, they fight against the establishment every single day, and I’ve been with them for years, and I will pass the Equality Act, too.”
In a press release following the Nevada caucuses, HRC President Chad Griffin called Clinton “another champion for LGBT equality” and said she has “the record, the vision, and the strategy to win and lead from her first day in office.”
The Desert Sun newspaper in nearby Palm Springs, California, reported HRC “paid for 18 people from the Palm Springs area to travel by bus Thursday to Las Vegas and campaign last-minute” for Clinton. The article also made prominent mention of that Clinton “made no public effort to oppose the Defense of Marriage Act” and, as a Senate candidate “made clear she supported civil unions and nothing beyond that.”
The question about Clinton’s previous position on same-sex marriage is reminiscent of a well-publicized interview of Clinton by public radio host Terry Gross on “Fresh Air” in June 2014. It also echoes the concerns raised by Log Cabin Republicans in a recent video it posted before the New Hampshire primary. The video shows various excerpts of Clinton in 2002 and 2004 saying she did not believe gay couples should be allowed to marry, and included Log Cabin’s message “Hillary Clinton: Wrong on gay rights when it mattered.” The video, which does not indicate that one excerpt is Senator Clinton speaking against an anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment, appears to be getting wide circulation to Democrats.
Capitol Public Radio in Nevada found a lesbian who was for Sanders and a transgender woman who was leaning toward Republican Donald Trump. The report indicated LGBT issues came up during a campaign event by Clinton in the rural town of Elko.
While Clinton is being needled to explain the difference in her opinion on same-sex marriage between 2002 and today, Republican frontrunner Donald Trump is gliding to victory despite his inconsistencies on the subject.
On February 4, before the New Hampshire primary, he told New England Cable News journalist Sue O’Connell that LGBT people could expect continued “forward motion” on LGBT civil rights if he becomes president. According to a report from National Public Radio, Courageous Conservatives political action committee, which supports Cruz, ran a radio ad and made robocalls that excerpted Trump’s remarks to O’Connell.
“Stop! What does she mean by forward motion?” says the commentator on the ad. “What’s he agreeing to? It’s not about tolerance anymore. It’s about mandatory celebration. It’s about forcing people to bake cakes and forcing people to photograph gay weddings. Forcing clergy to officiate. It’s about transgender bathrooms in your child’s school. It’s about tearing down our Judeo-Christian values. It’s about tearing down our America.”
But after the death of the U.S. Supreme Court’s most notoriously anti-LGBT justice, Antonin Scalia, died, Trump told CNN “Justice Scalia is a fantastic man” and that, if president, he, Trump, would want the next nominee to the court to be “as close to [Scalia] as possible.” He also mentioned as a potential nominee federal appeals court judge Diane Sykes, of the Seventh Circuit. Sykes wrote a decision in 2006 that granted the Christian Legal Society a preliminary injunction to be recognized as a student group at the Southern Illinois University School of Law despite its policy against allowing gay members.
His inconsistencies run both ways. He accepted GOProud’s invitation to speak at a CPAC conference event in 2011, eliminated a beauty pageant rule requiring contestants be “naturally born female,” said he has “many fabulous friends who happen to be gay,” and accepted gay actor George Takei’s invitation to lunch to discuss same-sex marriage and attended the wedding of a gay couple.
Yet he was the first choice among born-again and evangelical Christian voters in South Carolina, where a Public Policy Polling survey just days before the February 20 primary found that 31 percent of Trump supporters “would support a ban on homosexuals entering the country.” (Interestingly, only 17 percent of Cruz supporters liked the idea and, among all South Carolina primary voters, only 20 percent did so.)
Then, there was Trump’s highly publicized row with the pope. Trump started it: In a February 11 Fox Business News interview, he criticized the pope for planning a prayer service on the U.S.-Mexico border February 18 to draw attention to the difficulties Mexicans face when they want to enter the U.S. Trump called the pope a “very political person” and suggested he was holding the border event at the behest of the Mexican government.
A reporter on the pope’s plane from Mexico to Rome February 19 asked the pontiff about Trump’s comments.
According to a Vatican transcript, a reporter noted that Trump had characterized the pope as a “pawn in the hands of the Mexican government” and that Trump, if elected president, “intends to construct” a wall along the border and to deport 11 million immigrants.
“I would like to ask, first of all, what you think of these accusations and whether an American Catholic can vote for such a person,” stated the reporter.
“I thank God that he has said I am a politician, as Aristotle defined the human being as an ‘animal politicus’,” replied the pope. “At least I am a human being! And that I am a pawn…perhaps, I do not know. I will leave that to our judgment, to the people. A person who thinks only of building walls, wherever that may be, and not bridges, is not Christian. This is not in the Gospel. With regard to what I would advise, to vote or not to vote: I would not like to become involved. I would say only that this man is not Christian.”
Media reports quickly multiplied, focusing on the pope’s statement that Trump was “not Christian,” and that prompted Trump to respond that it was “disgraceful” for a “religious leader” to question a person’s faith.
Exit polls of more than 2,000 voters surveyed as they left the in South Carolina found that 76 percent of voters in the South Carolina Republican primary said that “shared religious beliefs matter” to their decision on who to vote for. Broken down further, the polls indicated that “shared religious beliefs matter” “a great deal” to 43 percent of the South Carolina voters. They mattered “somewhat” to another 33 percent of voters. And 24 percent said such beliefs mattered “not much” or “not at all.” Of those who said the shared religious beliefs mattered a “great deal,” 32 percent voted for Cruz, 27 percent for Trump, and 20 percent for Rubio.
And yet Trump won, and Cruz –who won Iowa with his largely evangelical base of support—dropped to third place.
The Cruz campaign suffered another loss this week, too. The campaign’s senior communications director, Rick Tyler, tried to denigrate the senator’s competition in the South Carolina presidential primary by making a Twitter post February 11 that said “Trump and Rubio are with Obama on gay marriage.” That obviously didn’t work since both Trump and, by a very thin margin, Rubio beat Cruz. In that Twitter post, Tyler was simply parroting what Cruz himself had implied to a South Carolina audience that day. But on Monday, Cruz announced that he had asked for Tyler’s resignation. The offense? Tyler posted a video on Twitter of Rubio gesturing toward a Bible in front of a man and the caption on the video indicated that Rubio was telling the man, “not many answers in it.” It was later determined Rubio had actually said the Bible had “all the answers.”
Tyler said he posted the video without checking it for accuracy, adding, “I regret that mistake.” Cruz’s campaign has already been under fire for dishonest campaign tactics.