U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan side-stepped an opportunity Thursday to come out against anti-LGBT laws in North Carolina and Mississippi, although he cited the importance of “religious conscience.”
Under questioning from the Washington Blade, hours after Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump came out against the North Carolina measure, Ryan professed to be unfamiliar with the recently enacted anti-LGBT laws despite national backlash over them.
“I’m not going to comment on what various different states are doing,” Ryan said. “Again, all of our committees that have jurisdiction in this area are going to look at this issue, but it’s not my place to get involved in what each states do because, to be quite honest, I’m not sure what all of the details of those laws are.”
Ryan appeared flustered in response to a follow-up question as to whether he generally thinks laws that enable discrimination against LGBT people are a bad idea, citing his 2007 vote in favor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
“I think the way you phrased your question is a little odd,” Ryan said. “My record on this issue is pretty clear. I voted for ENDA, gosh, back in 2005, 6. I can’t remember when that was exactly. Look, this is an issue that also deals with religious conscience and religious freedom as well. So, I think there’s got to be a well-maintained balance, and I’m not sure what each of these states are doing, but this is something that members are going to work on their issue and speak their will, and I’ll leave it at that.”
Although Ryan voted for ENDA in 2007, he also voted for a motion to recommit that would have killed the legislation. Further, Ryan voted against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, hate crimes protection legislation and in favor of a U.S. constitutional amendment that would have banned same-sex marriage nationwide.
On the Democratic side, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz have come out against the Mississippi law. Pelosi said the North Carolina law is “going against the tide of progress” in this country on LGBT rights.
Drew Hammill, a Pelosi spokesperson, criticized Ryan for refusing to the take the opportunity to come out against the anti-LGBT law in North Carolina.
“It’s disappointing that Speaker Ryan can’t bother to take a coherent position on HB 2 in North Carolina,” Hammill said. “The law clearly targets LGBT residents for discrimination and with other states taking steps forward on similar measures, an ounce of leadership from a Republican Speaker of the House would go a long way.”
Also criticizing Ryan for his response was Meredith Kelly, a spokesperson of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee who said the speaker is to the right of Trump on the North Carolina law.
“Speaker Ryan can attempt to own the mantle of reasonable, moderate alternative all he wants – but when even Donald Trump thinks your position is discriminatory and offensive, there’s a problem,” Kelly said.
On the same day Ryan responded to the anti-LGBT laws, the three members of North Carolina’s congressional delegation who are Democrats — Reps. Alma Adams (D-N.C.), David Price (D-N.C.), and G. K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) — made public a letter sent to North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory and state legislative leaders calling for repeal of House Bill 2, citing an estimated $560 million in loss of revenue to the state over the anti-LGBT law.
“Just as importantly, it has severely tarnished North Carolina’s image as one of the best places in the country to live, work, and raise a family,” the lawmakers write.” Governors and corporate recruiters in other states have taken note. Executive Order Number 93, which was issued in response to the widespread condemnation of HB 2, fails to correct the broad injustices contained in the bill and serves as a clear admission that the law discriminates against members of the LGBT community while undermining state protections against employment discrimination.”