The Veep Candidates Should Have Been Asked About Discrimination In The Name Of Religion

Last night’s vice presidential debate covered several issues pertaining to the economy, foreign policy, immigration and even faith – for a brief moment. 

When debate moderator Elaine Quijano asked, “Can you discuss in detail a time when you struggled to balance your personal faith and a public policy position?” both U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) talked about reproductive rights.  

Kaine pointed out that he personally opposes abortion but supports a women’s rights to choose, while Pence went in a different direction. He didn’t seem to have a problem with limiting the reproductive rights of women in the name of religion.

One thing Pence didn’t talk about with regard to mixing religion and his policies, however – and both Kaine and Quijano failed to follow up with him about it, disappointingly – is his horrendous record as both the governor of Indiana and as a congressman of restricting LGBTQ rights in the name of “religious freedom.”

In March 2015, Pence signed Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) into law. A federal version of RFRA passed in 1993 was intended to protect religious freedom, most often by adherents of minority religions. But that law and some state versions passed since then have been misused by Religious Right activists who want to employ them as a means of discrimination, often against members of the LGBTQ community.

Pence also has a long anti-LGBTQ record. Unfortunately, this didn’t come up last night either.

In 2000, while running for Congress, he proposed diverting HIV prevention funding  to “conversion therapy,” a discredited and dangerous practice that seeks to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.

In 2006, Pence backed an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would define marriage as only between a man and a woman. He said that LGBTQ couples signal a “societal collapse was always brought about following an advent of the deterioration of marriage and family.”

The veep debate was notable for the questions that weren't asked. (Steve Helber/AP photo)

In 2007, he voted against the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would have banned LGBTQ discrimination in the workplace, saying that protecting LGBTQ workers somehow “wages war on freedom and religion in the workplace.”

Pence also opposed repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in 2010 – a policy that prevented service members from identifying as openly LGBTQ, and he disapproved of the Obama administration’s recent guidance that provides protections against anti-transgender discrimination.

With Pence on Donald Trump’s ticket, questions about these issues need to be asked. Moderators need to follow up about religiously motivated discrimination. It hurts and affects a lot of Americans, and LGBTQ Americans should not be ignored.

That’s one of the reasons why Americans United submitted a question for the upcoming presidential debate this Sunday. We want Trump and Hillary Clinton to answer: “Does religious freedom mean the right to discriminate against other people, to harm them & take away their rights?”

You can vote for it here: http://bit.ly/AUopendebate . We hope that the next debate includes a discussion about religiously motivated discrimination. This is an important issue, and the American people deserve to know where the candidates stand.