Politics & Policy

Mike Pence Is Not a Bigot

Pence speaks at a rally in Phoenix, Ariz., August 2, 2016. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)
The Left’s smear campaign against Indiana’s governor is dishonest and shameful.

As soon as Donald Trump officially announced Indiana governor Mike Pence as his running mate in July, people on the left hurriedly began gathering ammunition with which to slander Pence, seizing, in particular, upon his supposedly egregious record as a social conservative. Hillary Clinton’s campaign, Democratic politicians, liberal media outlets, and left-wing activist groups such as Planned Parenthood have spent the past few months intentionally misrepresenting facts in order to paint Pence as a bigoted, puritanical politician who will force LGBT individuals out of the public square, and permit pregnant women to die without proper medical care.

In fact, the Indiana governor’s positions on abortion and religious freedom are much more reasonable than Clinton and Planned Parenthood would have you believe. The most recent demonization of Pence — it’s not the first time the Indiana governor has been treated like this — employs a common tactic whereby liberal politicians and media figures depict their ideological opponents as so far outside the mainstream on social issues as to be anathema to public conversation. But in this case, as in most cases like it, the smears simply aren’t true.

The largest category of attacks on Pence is in response to his “bigotry” against LGBT individuals, supposedly evinced by his signing of Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), modeled after a federal law of the same name. This vilification rests upon a widespread and commonly-held misinterpretation of how the law in question functions. A Huffington Post piece from mid-August called Pence the “human embodiment of [Trump’s] anti-LGBT platform,” claiming that Trump’s selection of Pence as his running mate will matter more than any other vice-presidential selection in history because of Pence’s “long history of opposing equal rights for LGBT people.” The author goes on to call RFRA a “so-called religious liberty bill” that legalized “wide-scale discrimination against LGBT people” and was “one of the most draconian anti-LGBT pieces of legislation” in history, a law that supposedly enabled business owners to refuse service to LGBT people.

This portrayal of the Indiana RFRA — and of Pence’s role in the fight surrounding it — is commonplace. It is also wholly false. Neither the federal version of RFRA, signed into law by President Bill Clinton, nor the RFRAs currently on the books in 21 states “legalize discrimination” against LGBT people. And religious-freedom laws are not, as one Episcopalian priest recently argued, “unconstitutional smokescreens for bigotry.” There is not a single religious-liberty law in the United States that permits a business owner to deny service to an LGBT person on the basis of sexual orientation.

What these laws do is provide protection to citizens who believe that marriage is the union of one man and one woman. This means that a baker or florist or photographer who believes that marriage is limited to one man and one woman cannot be compelled by the state to bake a cake or arrange flowers or take photographs as part of a same-sex wedding celebration. This does not mean that a baker or florist can deny service to a gay man because he is gay; if a business owner did so, RFRA laws would not protect him from government action. It bears noting that the vast majority of individuals being sued in cases such as these had gladly served LGBT people for decades, and only objected when they were asked to contribute their services to same-sex weddings.

The slanderous attacks on Pence extend beyond LGBT issues, of course, and into the realm of “women’s issues.” Planned Parenthood has labeled him the “original crusader” against “reproductive rights.” A Mother Jones article notes that, as Indiana governor, Pence “signed a measure prohibiting women from obtaining an abortion because of the race, gender, or disability of the fetus.” According to Mother Jones — and “much of the medical community,” apparently — it’s acceptable for a mother to choose to kill her child based on its gender, race, or potential disabilities. In fact, to prevent women from doing so is wrong because it will force women to “censor themselves when it comes to making difficult decisions with the help of their doctors.” If those “difficult decisions” involve infanticide, though — whether of a black child, or a child with Down syndrome, or any child, for that matter — Pence is right to oppose and outlaw them.

Pence is no ‘radical,’ no matter how hard the Left tries to depict him as one.

Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood has released numerous statements vilifying Pence, one of which cites a Salon story attacking the Indiana governor for “punishing” women in his state who have had abortions or who have miscarried or “for any outcome of their pregnancy that doesn’t result in a healthy baby.” Pro-abortion activists also point to Pence’s time in the House of Representatives, where he authored the first bill to defund Planned Parenthood. “He’s the only one I know of who has been so completely obsessed with Planned Parenthood,” the group’s president, Cecile Richards, told Politico in 2011.

#related#But at the time, Pence said repeatedly that his objection to Planned Parenthood was due to his objections to abortion, not to the other services the group provides, such as counseling or HIV testing; he said he would stop his efforts to defund the group if it stopped performing abortions. He was never interested in “depriving women of needed services” or punishing women who had miscarriages, but rather in defending infant lives. In this case, liberals are correct in describing Pence as an opponent of abortion, but wrong in depicting that opposition as evidence of his hatred for women and disregard for their health. In reality, he was fighting for his belief in the personhood of unborn children.

It is easy for liberals to demonize social conservatives such as Pence by claiming they want to legalize discrimination against gays and lesbians and prevent women from being free to access their reproductive rights. It is also almost always dishonest. Pence is no “radical,” no matter how hard the Left tries to depict him as one.

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