Tuesday night’s vice presidential debate was a disappointing failure due in large part to moderator Elaine Quijano’s inability to prevent the candidates from obnoxiously talking over each other. But when Quijano did get a word in, she asked strange questions that seemed largely irrelevant to the issues that have dominated either Tim Kaine or Mike Pence’s career. Perhaps most glaringly, Quijano did not ask about a topic that starkly divides the candidates in a highly revealing way: LGBTQ rights.
To recap Pence’s colorful history in this area:
- In 2000, Pence argued that federal funding for HIV/AIDS treatments should be diverted to gay conversion “therapy” programs to turn gay people heterosexual.
- In the 1990s, Pence’s conservative think tank published a bizarre screed against gays in the military that included graphic descriptions of made-up gay sex acts.
- As a congressman, Pence supported a constitutional amendment that would’ve banned same-sex marriage across the country and called gay unions a “deterioration of marriage and family” and a sign of “societal collapse.”
- Pence voted against the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” in 2010, saying that allowing gays to serve openly in the military was dangerous “social experimentation.”
- Pence opposed a federal law that would prohibit anti-gay employment discrimination, calling it a “war on freedom and religion in the workplace.”
- As Indiana governor, Pence signed a law designed to let businesses discriminate against LGBTQ customers, then lied about its purpose on national TV.
Kaine is an altogether different story. In the 2000s, Kaine purported to oppose same-sex marriage, but he campaigned against a constitutional amendment in 2006 barring Virginia from recognizing same-sex unions. (The measure was successful—but was, of course, later invalidated under the 14th Amendment.) At the same time, he supported workplace nondiscrimination laws for LGBTQ people. In 2012, Kaine announced that he now supports same-sex marriage. More recently, Kaine has come out in favor of complete LGBTQ equality, including broad federal nondiscrimination laws. Across the board, these positions are simply antipodal to Pence’s.
Yet Quijano avoided LGBTQ issues altogether. Her one question about “social issues” might have opened the door to same-sex marriage but instead led the candidates to focus exclusively on abortion and capital punishment. At one point, Pence praised adoption as an alternative to abortion. Neither Quijano nor Kaine thought to note that Pence opposes same-sex adoption and vigorously defended his state’s same-sex adoption ban in court.
Tuesday night was probably America’s best chance to hear Pence directly challenged on his militantly anti-LGBTQ views. Instead, we heard about social security and the national debt. The entire evening was a calamitous waste of time. But this omission was an especially egregious missed opportunity.