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Tim Kaine Gave the Best Defense of LGBT Rights in the VP Debate, But You Might Have Missed It

VP Presidential Debate Tim Kaine Mike Pence
Andrew Gombert/AP

And no, it wasn’t the Vladimir Putin comment.

LGBTs watched Tuesday night's presidential debate between Sen. Tim Kaine and Gov. Mike Pence hoping for a moment of serious examination on LGBT rights. That moment never really came. On Twitter, gay and queer personalities slammed the debate as a missed opportunity for Pence to justify--somehow--his horrendous track record of discrimination against LGBTs.

The only mention of LGBTs during the night--and the first such mention in the debates so far--came from Kaine when he criticized Russian President Vladimir Putin for his oppression of marginalized groups. But Kaine also made a statement that many queer viewers may have missed--that supports and defends our rights as guaranteed by the Constitution and the Supreme Court. And Kaine did this without even saying "LGBT."

On the issue of personal faith and public service, Kaine made his position clear. "I know how to take an oath and uphold the law," he said. "... It is not the role of the public servant to mandate [religious beliefs] for everyone else."

That key distinction is the central problem of "religious liberty" laws today--laws like the one Pence enacted as governor of Indiana. Since marriage equality, the language of LGBT rights is changing; conservatives have wrapped housing, jobs, and fair treatments for queer Americans under the umbrella of "religious" issues, and that language has taken hold. When faced with a conflict of religious beliefs and LGBT rights, conservative public servants persist in pressuring their religious views on those they serve. They do this in defiance of the oft-quoted "law and order" that the Trump-Pence ticket brags about constantly.

In Alabama, a judicial court just removed Chief Justice Roy Moore because he encouraged probate judges to refuse marriage licenses to same-sex couples. He said they had a "ministerial duty" to do this, despite multiple district court rulings and a Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodge.

Likewise, Pence spent his career as a congressman and governor putting his personal beliefs above his people. He wanted to divert government funding of HIV/AIDS research into conversion therapy. He wrote into law a "religious liberty" protection that did very little to protect anything resembling faith--a law he himself had to declaw after state and national backlash. He said homosexuals were disease-ridden and were not "able-bodied" enough to serve in the military.

As disgusting as that is, Pence can have these beliefs. He can't legislate around these beliefs.

Both Kaine and Pence are men of faith. They have the right to their faith. But they do not have the right, as conservative politicians have consistently demonstrated, to place their individual beliefs over the oaths they take to the American people. That fundamental acceptance of service to others, and not to self, is what distinguishes an ally from a bigot.

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