CHICAGO Democratic presidential contender Pete Buttigieg on Friday accused Vice President Mike Pence of advancing homophobic policies, saying that while he doesnt know whether Pence is truly homophobic, his policies are hurting other people just the same.
I dont know whats in his heart, Buttigieg told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt in an interview airing Friday. But, he added, if youre in public office and you advance homophobic policies, on some level it doesnt matter whether you do that out of political calculation or whether you do it out of sincere belief.
The problem is, its hurting other people, said Buttigieg, the South Bend, Indiana, mayor.
Buttigiegs comments may add further fuel to an emotional dispute thats played out between him and Pence, the former Indiana governor, over LGBT issues. Buttigieg, who is openly gay and married to a man, has invoked Pences name on the campaign trail to say that if Pence has a problem with his sexuality, his problem is with my creator. That led Pence to accuse Buttigieg of leveling attacks on my Christian faith.
The vice presidents office didnt immediately respond to a request for comment Friday about Buttigiegs remarks. But in a Fox News interview earlier in the week, Pence said it was disappointing to see both Buttigieg and former Vice President Joe Biden criticizing him on the campaign trail despite having what Pence described as a positive relationship with the Democrats in the past.
If he wins their partys nomination, well have a lot more to say about him, Pence said of Buttigieg.
Those comments came the same week that President Donald Trump, asked about Buttigiegs same-sex marriage, said it was absolutely fine and that he had no objection to Buttigieg appearing with his husband on stage at his campaign kickoff.
I think that's something that perhaps some people will have a problem with. I have no problem with it whatsoever, Trump said.
The dispute between Buttigieg and Pence, who worked together when Pence was Indiana governor, has emerged in the 2020 race as a flashpoint in the broader societal debate about whether support for LGBT rights such as same-sex marriage are compatible with firmly held religious beliefs and support for religious freedom.
Pence has pointed out that hes always treated Buttigieg with respect and has argued that the South Bend mayor is cynically picking a fight with him to raise his political profile.
But Buttigieg has said that whats important is not whether Pence is cordial to gay people but whether the policies hes advocated are harming them. In Indiana, Pence spearheaded a religious freedom law seen as one of the most intolerant toward LGBT people in the nation.
Hes always been polite to me in person, Buttigieg said. But you look at the fact that he, to this day, cannot bring himself to say that it shouldnt be legal to discriminate against people who are gay.
He added that Pence has also not raised objections to Trumps ban on transgender people serving openly in the military nor reversed his earlier opposition to same-sex marriage or gay people serving openly in the military.
As he works to position himself as a viable primary candidate for president, Buttigieg has faced repeated doubts about his ability to appeal to minorities, amid signs in early voting states such as South Carolina that he has yet to attract support from African Americans in large numbers. Polling has showed that among religious groups, black Protestants are less supportive of same-sex marriage than any other, with only 44 percent of black Protestants and 51 percent of African Americans overall approve of gay marriage, according to the Pew Research Center.
Asked whether Buttigieg believes that African Americans resent the rather quick assimilation of LGBTQ into the mainstream, Buttigieg demurred.
"I dont know, he said. You look at the trajectory of equality for LGBT people, and you compare it to the struggle that is going on for black America to this day, and youve got to ask the question how come one moved so quickly, and the other is plodding along generationally at such a slow pace. And as somebody whos part of, you know, a group of people thats been pushed to the side in one way, I think I have that much more responsibility to be there to stand up for people who are on the wrong side of racism.
Josh Lederman is a national political reporter for NBC News.