Following the 2016 vice presidential debate moderated by CBS’ Elaine Quijano, media figures were shocked that Republican vice presidential nominee Gov. Mike Pence was able to “escape” discussion of the “most controversial moment” of his career -- signing Indiana’s infamously anti-LGBT “religious freedom” law in 2015.Journalists highlighted Pence’s “aggressively” anti-LGBT track record, and noted that people were “up in arms on Twitter” at the “lack of discussion about Pence’s record on LGBT rights.”
Pence Has A Long Track Record Of Opposing LGBT Equality
Pence Signed Indiana’s Notorious Anti-LGBT “Religious Freedom” Bill Into Law. In March 2015, Pence signed into law his state's so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which provided a legal defense for individuals and businesses who cite their religious beliefs while discriminating against LGBT people. The law triggered a furious national backlash, with major companies, celebrities, and government leaders condemning the measure for potentially encouraging discrimination against LGBT Hoosiers. Pence and top Indiana Republicans eventually “fixed" the law by adding language that prevents it from being used as a defense for anti-LGBT discrimination in court. [Media Matters, 4/2/15, 10/3/16]
Pence Has A Long History Of Anti-LGBT Activism. Pence has staunchly opposed LGBT equality since the 1990s, when he was a board member for the Indiana Family Institute (IFI), which advocates for “religious liberty” and opposes “so-called same-sex ‘marriage.’” In the 1990s, Pence was head of the Indiana Policy Review, which published articles “urging employers not to hire gay employees” and referred to “gaydom” as a “pathological condition.” During his 12-year tenure in Congress, Pence opposed workplace nondiscrimination protections based on sexual orientation, opposed efforts to expand the definition of a hate crime to include crimes based on sexual orientation, attempted to divert HIV/AIDS funding towards conversion therapy, and opposed the end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” [The Indianapolis Star, 1/13/16; Right Wing Watch, 8/31/16; Out, 9/1/16; Indiana Family Institute, accessed 10/5/16]
Journalists Shocked That Pence “Escaped” Discussing LGBT Equality
Mr. Pence’s most controversial moment as a national figure — and the biggest stumble of his political career — came after he signed a law in Indiana that critics had warned would allow businesses to discriminate against gay men and lesbians. Facing an enormous backlash, Mr. Pence first defended the law and then walked it back. The episode seemed likely to tarnish him as a national figure in a lasting way.
But neither Mr. Kaine nor the debate moderator, Elaine Quijano of CBS News, raised the issue Tuesday night. The lone mention of gay rights came when Mr. Kaine noted that Mr. Putin “persecutes L.G.B.T. folks and journalists.” Mr. Pence now appears likely to escape the 2016 election without any extensive airing of this formative moment in his career. [The New York Times, 10/5/16]
MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow: Pence Is “Famous For Having Pushed The Most Aggressive Pro-LGBT Discrimination Bill” And Then Having To “Embarrassingly Walk It Back.” During MSNBC’s October 4 post-debate coverage, co-host Rachel Maddow said she was “surprised” that Pence hadn’t been posed any questions about his track record on LGBT issues:
RACHEL MADDOW (CO-HOST): On this issue, what Chris was just talking about there about the issue about how that one attack and that one story about Trump's past has really stuck to him this week with that Ms. Universe thing. I was surprised, especially the way that Tim Kaine approaches this, that we didn't get more about how Governor Mike Pence has behaved on feminist issues, on reproductive rights issues -- we got there a little bit -- but specifically on LGBT issues. I mean, I don't think that because I'm gay I was looking to hear more of it than most people were, but I mean Mike Pence is really famous for having pushed the most aggressive pro-LGBT discrimination bill in the country, having to really embarrassingly walk it back. When he was in Congress, he said that HIV and AIDS funding should not be disbursed unless it was also spent -- federal dollars -- spent to try to 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. We did hear a little bit to reproductive–
NICOLLE WALLACE: What’s your theory? I mean, why do you think -- Kaine hit everything else --
MADDOW: I think that the debate was essentially curated, it was essentially led as if it was refrigerator poetry. Honestly, I think the topics were alphabetical. You can't have somebody who’s been a religious right warrior his entire public life and get to one question on what was described as social issues in the last three minutes of the debate and can think that you are actually having these guys engage on what they’ve fought about. [MSNBC, Post-Debate Coverage, 10/4/16]
Quartz: “Mike Pence Was Not Asked A Single Question About His Decades-Long Assault On LGBT Rights.” An October 5 Quartz article juxtapozed the disparate amount of time spent discussing foreign policy compared to the treatment of LGBT people:
It felt like 75% of the debate was allotted for discussion of foreign policy, while precisely 0% was devoted to treatment of LGBT people. Even if it’s not the most “important” issue as deemed by registered voters, that doesn’t excuse ignoring it entirely, especially when one of the candidates has spent decades advocating laws opposed by most Americans. [Quartz, 10/5/16]
IndyStar: Pence “Escaped” His “Biggest Political Vulnerability” With No Mention Of RFRA. In a October 5 article for The Indianapolis Star, Tony Cook wrote that Pence had “escaped” mention of the so-called “religious freedom” law, arguably Pence’s “biggest political vulnerability” that was “by far the most controversial law he signed as governor”:
Pence pulled off yet another seemingly miraculous feat during Tuesday night's vice presidential debate: He escaped the most important moment of his political life without any mention of the one topic that has consistently dogged him in Indiana.
Pence was forced to address a wide range of controversial positions espoused by his running mate, Donald Trump. But he was never asked about RFRA, by far the most controversial law he signed as governor.
Ultimately, though, there wasn't a single mention of RFRA during the debate. Kaine never brought it up. Neither did moderator Elaine Quijano of CBS News.
Given that Tuesday's debate is expected to be the only face-to-face meeting of the two vice presidential candidates, it now seems that what is arguably Pence's biggest political vulnerability will likely to go unaddressed on the national stage. [The Indianapolis Star, 10/5/16]
Mic: “Anti-LGBTQ Crusader” Pence Wasn’t Asked About Trump’s Assertion That “‘The Gays’ Would Prefer His Policies.” Mic noted that people were “up in arms on Twitter” at the “lack of discussion about Pence’s record on LGBTQ rights.” From the October 5 article:
Throughout his career in the private sector, Congress and most recently as governor of Indiana, Pence has been an anti-LGBTQ crusader
Instead of asking about his record on the issue — which runs counter to GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump's statement that “the gays” would prefer his policies — Quijano instead lobbed a softball question to Pence about his faith. [Mic, 10/5/16]