U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions — known for his anti-LGBT record — was set to speak Tuesday at an event for the anti-LGBT legal group representing before the U.S. Supreme Court a Colorado baker that denied a wedding cake to a same-sex couple for religious reasons.
Media outlets, including Buzzfeed, reported Sessions’ public schedule was updated Tuesday during his trip to California to include on the same day at 5:30 local time a speech in Orange County at Alliance Defending Freedom’s “religious freedom” summit. The remarks were closed to press.
Alliance Defending Freedom — designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center — is the legal group defending Masterpiece Cakeshop, which in 2012 refused to make a wedding cake for same-sex couple David Mullins and Charlie Craig based on religious objections. After the Colorado Civil Rights Commission penalized the bakery in 2014, Alliance Defending Freedom continued to appeal the decision and filed a petition for certiorari before the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court late last month agreed to take up the lawsuit, which asserts the bakery had a right under freedom of religion under the First Amendment to deny services to the same-sex couple.
Other anti-LGBT work credited to Alliance Defending Freedom is support for the First Amendment Defense Act, a federal bill that would allow anti-LGBT discrimination in the name of “religious freedom,” as well as state legislation that would prohibit transgender people from using public restrooms consistent with their gender identity.
Sessions speaks at the Alliance Defending Freedom’s summit after a long anti-LGBT career as a U.S. senator that critics seized upon as he sought confirmation as attorney general before his former colleagues.
During his conformation hearing, Sessions said he’s heard the calls for justice from LGBT people and would “fully enforce” statutes protecting their civil rights, but also maintained protecting religious liberty — code among conservatives for anti-LGBT discrimination — would be a “very high priority.”
Sessions’ record as a U.S. senator includes votes in favor of a U.S. constitutional amendment that would have banned same-sex marriage nationwide as well as votes against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, hate crimes legislation and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. As attorney general, Sessions withdrew guidance requiring schools to grant transgender kids access to school restrooms consistent with their gender identity.
Last week, Sessions may have reversed himself on the hate crimes law, promising to “aggressively and appropriately” enforce the law as it pertains to ongoing anti-transgender violence across the country. Under Sessions, the Justice Department allowed an event for LGBT employees recognizing June as Pride month, although the Washington Blade was ejected from the event after attempting to cover it.
A Justice Department spokesperson confirmed Sessions’ appearance at the event, but declined to say whether it signifies support for Alliance Defending Freedom’s lawsuit before the Supreme Court.
Joel Kasnetz, a spokesperson for the Democratic National Committee, said in a statement Sessions’ willingness to speak to Alliance Defending Freedom speaks volumes about his approach as attorney general.
“You can judge a person by the company they keep and tonight – Attorney General Jeff Sessions is choosing to spend his time speaking in front of one of the country’s leading anti-LGBTQ hate groups,” Kasnetz said. “The Alliance Defending Freedom actively helped draft discriminatory legislation, worked to preserve laws criminalizing same-sex relations, and attacked the separation of church and state. ADF has been previously designated a hate group and Sessions’ appearance at this event, as the top law enforcement official in the country, brings into question whether the attorney general intends to protect all Americans.”
David Dinielli, deputy legal director for the Southern Poverty Law Center, called on Sessions to make public his remarks during the closed-door event.
“The Alliance Defending Freedom has rightfully earned its designation as a hate group by demonizing LGBT people,” Dinielli said. “If Attorney General Jeff Sessions doesn’t condone such beliefs, he should immediately make his remarks to the group public and be prepared to defend them. The LGBT community – as well as all Americans – needs to know if he is capable of upholding our country’s fundamental promise of equal protection under the law.”