Democratic presidential candidates talk faith at CNN Equality Town Hall

Democratic presidential candidate South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks during the Power of our Pride Town Hall Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019, in Los Angeles. The LGBTQ-focused town hall featured nine 2020 Democratic presidential candidates. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)Democratic presidential candidate South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks during the Power of our Pride Town Hall Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019, in Los Angeles. The LGBTQ-focused town hall featured nine 2020 Democratic presidential candidates. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

From stories about faith motivating their public service to unequivocal promises to strip the tax exempt status of faith-based organizations that oppose same-sex marriage, Democratic presidential candidates talked religion at length Monday night as part of a series of interviews hosted by CNN and the Human Rights Campaign.

Dubbed the Equality Town Hall, the questions focused on how candidates would handle issues affecting L.G.B.T. Americans should they be elected president. Questions included how candidates would address H.I.V., housing for homeless L.G.B.T. youth and rights for transgender people in the workplace.

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Dubbed the Equality Town Hall, the questions focused on how candidates would handle issues affecting L.G.B.T. Americans should they be elected president.

As the Supreme Court considers a pair of L.G.B.T. related cases that some religious leaders say could imperil religious freedoms, most candidates discussed how to balance faith protections with L.G.B.T. rights. While many candidates shared stories about their own faith, nearly all of them agreed that the federal government should penalize faith-based institutions that do not support L.G.B.T. rights.

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Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren pointed to her childhood faith in shaping her views on L.G.B.T. issues. She said the “basis” of her faith is “the preciousness of each and every life. It is about the worth of every human being.” She said that she could not remember a time when she opposed same-sex marriage. She joked that if a man believes marriage is the union of one man and one woman, she would tell him, “Then just marry one woman. I’m cool with that.”

Like the other Democrats running for president, Ms. Warren signaled her support for the Equality Act, a Congressional bill that would add sexual orientation and gender identity to existing federal civil rights protections. In more than half the states, it is legal to discriminate against L.G.B.T. in employment and housing. Some religious leaders, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, have spoken out against the Equality Act, saying that it will harm religious freedom protections.

Asked about religious liberty, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg said, “the right to religious freedom ends where religion is being used as an excuse to harm other people.”

Mr. Buttigieg, the only openly gay candidate seeking the Democratic nomination, used the town hall to talk about his own experience with faith. He said when Christianity is invoked to discriminate against L.G.B.T. people, “it makes God small.”

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“If you belong to the Christian tradition that I belong to, then you believe that God loves you, and you look around and you notice that you’re gay, and those two things exist at the same time,” he said. “And I would also say that nothing has made me feel more connected, more able to be true, however imperfectly, to my faith than the experience of putting myself second, [and] that came with committing my life to my husband, Chasten.”

Senator Cory Booker, who speaks regularly on the campaign trail about his own faith, responded to a question about a Catholic high school teacher being fired for her marriage to another woman by saying it is possible to “respect your religious freedoms but also protect people from discrimination.”

Opponents of the Equality Act say it would whittle away existing religious liberty protections. Mr. Booker, who supports the measure, said he wanted to ensure that L.G.B.T. protections were explicit in education and healthcare. When asked if he would support stripping faith-based schools and colleges of their tax exempt status for discriminating against L.G.B.T. people, Mr. Booker said he would enforce federal non-discrimination laws, which could result in tax penalties.

Later in the evening, former Congressman Beto O’Rourke was asked a similar question—but he did not hold back.

Asked if he thought religious institutions, including colleges, schools and charities, should lose their tax-exempt status if they oppose same-sex marriage, Mr. O’Rourke responded, “Yes.” Later, in another question dealing with religion, he described himself as a lifelong Catholic. But he highlighted an incident when he served on the city council of El Paso, Texas, in which a Catholic priest chastised him during a meeting for supporting L.G.B.T. rights.

When asked about faith, Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota said, “We can have different faiths in this country, but the law rules,” adding, “my church in Minnesota was the first open and affirming church in our state.”

A number of recent high-profile court cases have involved L.G.B.T. couples being refused adoption assistance by faith-based agencies. When asked about that, Ms. Klobuchar said adoption agencies should “follow the law.”

“There are so many loving gay, L.G.B.T.Q. couples that want to adopt kids, and we should make it easier and not harder,” she said.

Julian Castro, a former Obama administration official and former mayor of San Antonio, said he opposes disbursing federal money to faith-based groups that oppose L.G.B.T. rights.

“I don’t believe that anybody should be able to discriminate against you because you are a member of the LGBTQ community. I don’t believe that folks should be getting funding if they’re doing that,” Mr. Castro said.

Mr. Castro said that as a Catholic, he knows there are many L.G.B.T. people who also belong to religious traditions, adding it is time “to end this myth that these two things are separate.”

“The other side always acts like those two are completely separate,” he said, referring to Republicans. “They’re not. The L.G.B.T.Q. community includes people of faith who oftentimes, as I have heard over the years, have suffered through even with their faith, holding onto that faith, as the institutions that they belong to oftentimes have put them down, have characterized them as ‘the other.’”

“We can’t do anything about the religious institutions themselves, but when it comes to government funding or how our laws treat people, everybody’s going to be treated the same,” he said.

Though many of the candidates addressed similar topics, they were not all asked the same questions. Two candidates did not talk about faith or religious freedom specifically: California Senator Kamala Harris and businessman Tom Steyer. Former Vice President Joe Biden, who frequently invokes his Catholic faith, noted that Ireland, an historically Catholic country, was the first country to legalize same-sex marriage by popular vote.

Some religious Democrats expressed a mix of hope and disappointment with Thursday’s interviews.

“Buttigieg’s presence in the race affect the religious liberty debate in a powerful way. Simply by speaking as a gay Christian, he dismantles the assumption--held by many conservatives *and* liberals--that this is about choosing between support for religion or support for LGBTQ,” tweeted Amy Sullivan, a journalist who covers religion and politics. In a separate tweet, she wrote that Mr. O’Rourke “is not going to be the Democratic nominee and his statement last night is not going to be part of the Democratic platform.”

Michael Wear, a former Obama administration faith outreach advisor, told The Deseret News that candidates were too dismissive of faith during the interviews.

“If one of these candidates has the burden of governing this whole diverse, complex country, I would hope they wouldn’t be as flippant as they’re being during this campaign so far when it comes to that real stake that religious freedom has in these conversations,” he said.

The complexity of L.G.B.T. rights, faith and non-discrimination laws was perhaps most evident in a question posed by audience member Seth Owen. Mr. Owen made headlines in 2018 when he revealed that he had been kicked out of his home by his Southern Baptist parents because he is gay. Valedictorian of his high school, Mr. Owens wished to attend college but he could not afford it. So he set up an online fundraising page, which attracted the attention of celebrities including Ellen DeGeneres. He was eventually able to attend Georgetown University. The Jesuit school pitched in by reducing Mr. Owen’s out of pocket contribution to $0.

Correction: Oct. 15, 2019
A previous version of this article said Mr. Castro is a member of Congress. It has been updated to note he is the former mayor of San Antonio.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
George Obregon
1 month 1 week ago

Thank God we have President Trump at the healm of our great nation.

Should the Deep State federal government penalize Christian faith-based institutions that do not support Lesbian/homosexual “rights” the Roman Catholics would be hit very hard, among other traditional Christian institutions.

Remember Obama’s war against Little Sisters of The Poor?
/geo ex machina

Ben U
1 month 1 week ago

Faith is not an excuse to abuse those of minority stature.

George Obregon
1 month 1 week ago

Mr. Obama's Muslim faith did not preclude his war with Little Sisters of The Poor. Current events teach that President Trump's faith on the other hand liberated Little Sisters of The Poor from Obama's policies.
/geo ex machina

Robert Klahn
1 month 1 week ago

You are a liar. Obama was not a Muslim, nor should that question even be brought up.

Trump has faith only in himself. He is trying to take medical coverage away from those who need it but can't afford it on their own.

The ACA required that insurance companies offer policies that do not cover abortion.

Thomaspj Poovathinkal
1 month 1 week ago

U said it WELL.

Thank UU.

Peter Schwimer
1 month 1 week ago

Like your president you have no clue about that which you write. Do some more reading, fact check your statements

Peter Schwimer
1 month 1 week ago

Like your president you have no clue about that which you write. Do some more reading, fact check your statements

Robert Klahn
1 month 1 week ago

The government cannot penalize a religious institution for holding to it's beliefs. It can penalize them for playing politics, only to the extent of taking away their tax exempt status.

There was no war between Obama and the Little Sisters of the Poor. All they had to do was to sign papers saying they would not be including abortion in their insurance polices because of religious exemptions.

They chose not to do that. They did not declare their religious exemption so that's their own fault.

Frank Elliott
1 month ago

deleted.

Christopher Scott
1 month ago

How is it possible America Magazine can write an article like this and not even mention the only question asked a candidate about religious organizations and the answer Beto O'Rourke gave? Because (1) nobody watched it and (2) this magazine is disingenuous propaganda

Marcel Viens
1 month 1 week ago

"And it is about the preciousness of each and every life."
"it is about the worth of every human being."
"...because I think the whole foundation is - the worth of every single human being."
I find it very interesting that Ms. Warren would make these comments and yet be so adamantly pro abortion. I'm not buying her snake oil.

George Obregon
1 month 1 week ago

Mrs. Warren has never believed in the worth of human life in the womb. Indeed, no democrat candidate holds human life in the womb with any regard.
/geo ex machina

Ben U
1 month 1 week ago

@George: Baloney.

George Obregon
1 month 1 week ago

Mrs. Warren's sentiments against human life in the womb is Baloney, and fatal.
/geo ex machina

Peter Schwimer
1 month 1 week ago

George broad strokes. Once again FACT CHECK. It would be just as wacky for me to say no republican has ever cared about child after their birth.

Robert Klahn
1 month 1 week ago

Considering the high rate of infant mortality in this country, no Republican cares about a baby after it's born.

Considering the high rate of still births and spontaneous abortion in this country, Republicans don't give a damn about children before or after birth.

Robert Klahn
1 month 1 week ago

Considering the high rate of infant mortality in this country, no Republican cares about a baby after it's born.

Considering the high rate of still births and spontaneous abortion in this country, Republicans don't give a damn about children before or after birth.

John Mack
1 month 1 week ago

Warren is not a Catholic. She is tradional Protestant in her background. As late as the 1970's it was the Evangelical Protestant view, and the mainstream Protestant view, view that the Bible demonstrates that human life begins at first breath, at birth. This view change changed only when the Catholics and Evangelicals entered into a political alliance to advance a reactionary agenda (especially in regard to same sex love) whose end result is of immense benefit to the very wealthy and no one else. And extremely harmful to children and the environment.

Carlos Orozco
1 month 1 week ago

And the Universe was created 6 24-hour days, correct?

Robert Klahn
1 month 1 week ago

No, 6 2 billion year days.

Judith Jordan
1 month 1 week ago

Marcel Viens:
Elizabeth Warren is not pro-abortion, she is pro-choice. Individuals who are unable to distinguish the two, show they are ill-informed on some of the basic issues of abortion.

People who want to make abortion a crime, but vote against government programs to feed, clothe, and shelter children, which most conservatives do, are not pro-life, but are pro-birth.

Robert Klahn
1 month 1 week ago

I thank you for your support for a program to feed all the hungry, house all the homeless, provide universal health care, tuition free public college and tech schools, provide jobs for all at a good living wage, decent retirement, and, in general, care for the poor.

If that is not where you stand, you are a fraud, you are not pro-life, and you have nothing to say worth hearing.

Carlos Orozco
1 month 1 week ago

As a foreigner living outside the US, understanding how Trump ever got elected is a mystery. However, upon watching last night's CNN Equality Town Hall, it becomes obvious. Democrats have no limits to their virtue signaling: they have no problem committing child abuse against two "transgendered" children that were paraded to rabid applause. This note makes no mention of this gruesome act.

arthur mccaffrey
1 month 1 week ago

if true, that is indeed shocking and a form of abuse. Like parading your dog at the Westminster kennel show. I do not think that LGBTQ people make good role models for children, and I do not think they should teach in elementary schools. I hope Pope Francis issues his planned encyclical soon on the nature of marriage between a man and a woman. I am constantly amazed by how much free publicity the LGBTQ gang get on national media--makes me wonder who is funding their marketing campaign.

Carlos Orozco
1 month 1 week ago

Sadly, it happened. Parent activists have no shame, I have become used to the sleazy politicians and their presstitutes.

https://youtu.be/E7AYqZDHod4

Judith Jordan
1 month 1 week ago

Carlos Orozco:

I am always oppose to child abuse in any form. I went to your source and watched the tape. Frankly, I am perplexed as to where you spotted abuse.
The child on your tape asked what the Dems would do to make him feel safer in school. If the child is being bullied in school, which is common for transgenders, it is reasonable for him to ask any politician what will be done for his safety. To silence that inquiry is unacceptable.

The tape was presented by Sara Gonzales Unfiltered. I have no idea who she is or who sponsors here. I looked her up and still don’t have answers. I did ascertain that she is not a journalist, but a person who advocates for the right. Out of the 3:28 minutes of her tape, she showed around 30 seconds of the child. The rest of the tape she used to politicize the issue. In fact, I have not been able to find any criticism of the child’s appearance except on the right wing outlets.

Carlos Orozco
1 month 1 week ago

Judith,
I found it difficult to find in YOUTUBE a video of the participation of the so-called "transgendered" child in the CNN Town Hall. During the debate CNN had posted a clip, which was no longer available. I posted what I could find.
For me, the creepy smiling mother/transgender activist and the brainwashing of the girl (that CNN wants us to believe is a boy) is blatant proof of child abuse.

Robert Klahn
1 month 1 week ago

The news media have taken control of the elections, and decency takes second place to profits.

Christopher Scott
1 month 1 week ago

I’m sure the Jesuits got all excited watching this lightweight clown show, they were the only ones who knew it was on... lol

For everyone else who missed it I’ll attach a link to the Highlights below

https://youtu.be/YivoGvXYW-o

Where’s Hunter Biden?

James Schwarzwalder
1 month 1 week ago

Perhaps we will live to see the Catholic Church in U.S. define and implement marriage as a Sacrament only and the Church will withdraw from the business of having the couple get a marriage license from the appropriate civil authority. As it now is practiced, the Church is a de-facto agent or subcontractor of the civil government in that a legally binding civil contract, a civil marriage, is a bi-product of the religious ceremony in Church. Freedom of religion is at stake here and unless one wants to dispense with Saint Paul's letters, it is pretty clear what the Catholic Church teaches on the subject of marriage. Ordination is not open to all Catholics and ordination is a Sacrament. Marriage as a Sacrament in the Church does not have to be open to all the baptized, but to those who willingly agree to conform to teachings of the Church regarding this Sacrament. If the Catholic Church jettisons the civil contract aspects of marriage and leaves that to the State, then I see no basis for changing the tax exempt status that Churches enjoy in the U.S. A couple would be married by a civil authority and if they then desire to have a Church ceremony to receive the Sacrament, then fine. I think it was Pope Benedict XVI who commented that "The Catholic Church did not invent marriage."

Frank Elliott
1 month ago

Great post. I support civil same sex marriage because it is the only way for gay people to take care of each other as they get old and face death. My Latin teacher at Jesuit in New Orleans was dying of a respiratory disease and his partner had non-Hodgkins lymphoma. They asked me, a five-time cancer patient, if they should marry so that when my teacher died his partner who had cared for him for decades could inherit without death taxes. I said “yes.”. “Anyone who says you shouldn’t doesn’t have your best interests at heart. Fuck what the Church has to say about this,”

Crystal Watson
1 month 1 week ago

I'm proud of these candidates and their stances on LGBTQ rights and on religious faith. Conservatives have painted all Christianity as anti-gay but that isn't true. Most Christian denominations support gay rights and gay relationships ... Episcopal church, UCC, Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Quakers, etc.

Carlos Orozco
1 month 1 week ago

Warren was especially excited with a "transgendered" child in the Equality Town Hall. The infant's mother (more of an activist) had a smile as big as the Joker.
Democrats are worse than Trump, in the moral gutter.

Crystal Watson
1 month 1 week ago

He wasn't an infant, he was 9 years old. Here's an article from The Atlantic - "Young Trans Children Know Who They Are: A new study shows that gender-nonconforming kids who go on to transition already have a strong sense of their true identity—one that differs from their assigned gender." ... https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2019/01/young-trans-children-know-who-they-are/580366/

Carlos Orozco
1 month 1 week ago

Crystal,
The child is not a "boy", but a girl. Science says it (or try to disprove basic physiology, sex two pair chromosomes, difference in physical strength, different ways in which brain functions, etc), gender ideology is NOT science. Gender ideology is as "scientific" as Communism or some other deranged political theory.

Crystal Watson
1 month 1 week ago

Actually, it's more complicated than that. Here's an article from Nature - "Sex Redefined: The idea of two sexes is simplistic. Biologists now think there is a wider spectrum than that" ... https://www.nature.com/news/sex-redefined-1.16943

E.Patrick Mosman
1 month 1 week ago

A recent UK study found there is no 'gay' gene:
https://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/gay-gene-sex-lgbt-science-study-dna-a9084586.html
Probably why the Mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio' wife is no longer a lesbian.

Frank Elliott
1 month ago

Carlos, transexuals are routinely murdered. Sprite ting them is a matter of basic decency. You are scum.

Frank Elliott
1 month ago

Carlos, transexuals are routinely murdered. Sprite ting them is a matter of basic decency. You are scum.

E.Patrick Mosman
1 month 1 week ago

Obviously none of the democratic candidates has read or understood the First Amendment of the US Constitution:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."
Anything these cretins propose to restrict or punish religion or religious beliefs is unconstitutional to start.

Robert Klahn
1 month 1 week ago

There is no attempt to punish or restrict religious beliefs, only to prevent non-profits from using tax advantages to advance their religion.

Churches can hold any beliefs they chose, but they cannot get government money, or tax advantages, while playing politics.

E.Patrick Mosman
1 month ago

"Playing politics" What politics are you referring to? Is the belief that marriage is between a man and a women political?
What other beliefs are poltical?

Jim Smith
1 month 1 week ago

A glimpse of wolves in wolf's clothing, eh?

Kevin Murphy
1 month 1 week ago

Democrats are all would-be dictators, all dismissive of the Bill of Rights. Do they only support the religious institutions they agree with? The next step, of course, would be religious who are pro-life. America regularly bashes Trump, but these people are far worse.

Nancy D.
1 month 1 week ago

“Then just marry one woman. I’m cool with that.” How does this change the fact that no one who desires to come to know, Love, and serve, God, Who Is Authentic Love, and thus desires to affirm the worth of every beloved son or daughter, would ever condone the engaging in or affirmation of demeaning sexual acts, that regardless of the actor’s or the actor’s sexual desires/inclinations, demean the worth of all human persons, and thus are not and can never be, acts that reflect Authentic Life-affirming and Life-sustaining Love?

How can intentionally depriving a child, the Love of a father or a mother, not discriminate against the essence of being a man or woman, husband or wife, father or mother?

Every follower of Jesus The Christ affirms The Word Of God and God’s intention for Sexual Love within a Holy Marriage, for in all our relationships we are Called to Holiness:

“Have ye not read, that he who made man from the beginning, Made them male and female? And he said: [5] For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they two shall be in one flesh.” - Matthew Chapter 19

“For the Holy Spirit was not promised to the successors of Peter that by His revelation they might make known new doctrine, but that by His assistance they might inviolably keep and faithfully expound the Revelation, the Deposit of Faith, delivered through the Apostles. "

Peter Schwimer
1 month 1 week ago

Not sure why candidates were asked about their religious beliefs. They are running for President not Pope. For Catholics to support the current president because of his religious faith is ridiculous. He hasn't been inside a house if worship nor does he follow the principles of any religion .

E.Patrick Mosman
1 month 1 week ago

Even Thomas Jefferson had to contend with critics who argued that he was unfit to hold office because of their discomfort with his "unorthodox" religious beliefs.
In letters he described himself as also being an "Epicurean" (1819), a "19th century materialist" (1820), a "Unitarian by myself" (1825),[12] and "a sect by myself" (1819). Upon the disestablishment of religion in Connecticut, he wrote to John Adams: "I join you, therefore, in sincere congratulations that this den of the priesthood is at length broken up, and that a Protestant Popedom is no longer to disgrace the American history and character."
Trump's religious beliefs or none should not matter to any one, including Catholics, when facing anyone of these candidates.

Christopher Scott
1 month ago

You could tell people Jesus Christ was at the meeting and they might believe you because nobody watched it. Every time the Dems have what they call town hall or a debate Trump converts more never Trumper voters., he should pay them to do more. There is nothing religious about any of these sideshows, they’re pure demonic

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