A gay top official with the Democratic National Committee on Thursday slammed the recently signed religious discrimination law in Indiana as “outrageous,” warning 2016 presidential candidates that supporting such measures won’t fare well in New Hampshire’s early primary.
Ray Buckley, who’s one of five vice-chairs for the DNC and chair of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, made the comments on Thursday during a phone interview with the Washington Blade hours after Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed the measure into law.
“It is outrageous,” Buckley said. “With the Indiana business community coming out in opposition to it, the majority of Americans who believe that businesses shouldn’t be allowed to refuse services to individuals because they’re gay and lesbian, Gov. Pence and the Republican Party have decided to move forward with this damaging bill. It just turns the clock back on the progress that we’ve made for LGBT equality.”
The measure, Senate Bill 101, doesn’t explicitly mention sexual orientation or gender identity, but is seen as a thinly veiled endorsement of discrimination against LGBT people in Indiana. It prohibits the state government from burdening an individual’s free exercise of religion, including for the purpose of denying services for a same-sex wedding or employment to LGBT people.
Amid advances of marriage equality in the courts, numerous measures are pending in state legislatures across the country seeking to enable religious discrimination against LGBT people, but critics say the Indiana measure is particularly draconian because it would enable religious people to virtually opt out of any state law.
Buckley said he thinks Pence, who may be a contender for the GOP presidential nomination, signed SB 101 into law because the Republican base is “out of touch” with where Americans stand on LGBT issues.
“We’re looking at the ‘right to discriminate’ laws popping up and being signed into law by somebody who actually thinks he should be president of the United States,” Buckley said. “It is really odd.”
Asked about how he personally feels about the measure as an openly gay man, Buckley talked about his past as a state legislator in New Hampshire, which passed a law in 1999 prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
“So for us in New Hampshire this has been a done issue,” Buckley said. “Even when the Republicans have had overwhelming Republican majorities here in New Hampshire, they didn’t attempt to repeal this law. The fact that these governors, these Republicans are endorsing the concept of being pro-discrimination is blatantly out of touch with the values that America has.”
New Hampshire is one of three states — along with New York and Wisconsin — that has explicit statewide protections on the basis of sexual orientation, but not gender identity.
“[The Indiana law] makes me feel that for all the talk that there are some Republicans talking about how the Republican Party is becoming more and more embracing and supportive of the LGBT community, it’s very clear that is an absolute lie,” Buckley continued.
Likely 2016 Republican presidential contender Jeb Bush has already endorsed religious discrimination measures, saying “there should be protections” when asked about a version of the bill in the Georgia legislature.
But Buckley said other Republicans in the field who hope to become their party’s nominee in 2016 — Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio — share Bush’s views based on comments made in the past and assembled by the DNC.
“The reality is Mike Pence is right in line with Jeb Bush and Rand Paul and Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio and the lot of them,” Buckley said. “It is a very strange time for America. We’re becoming more and more inclusive and accepting and embracing of the LGBT community, where you’ve got the Republican candidates for president locked into the past and that’s not going to bode very well for them in 2016.”
The New Hampshire presidential primary is set for Jan. 28, which makes it the second stop after Iowa for the major parties contests for their nomination in 2016.
Based on the system in place in the Granite State, which enables New Hampshire independents to vote in either the Democratic or Republican primary, Buckley said he doesn’t think support for religious discrimination measures “will play very well at all” for candidates seeking their party’s nomination.
“It’s not just Republican voters that vote in the primary,” Buckley said. “42 percent of the voters out there can choose between voting in a Democratic primary, or a Republican, and if all these Republicans don’t offer anything to independents, then that’s going to stick in the minds of voters leading into the 2016 general, which, obviously, is great news for our Democratic candidates, but a disaster for the Republicans.”
One person likely to seek the presidency on the Democratic ticket who hasn’t voiced objections to religious discrimination legislation is Hillary Clinton. A spokesperson for Clinton didn’t respond to the Blade’s request to comment on the measures.
Nonetheless, Buckley said he expects to hear from Clinton on the legislation after she officially announces her bid for the White House, which media reports say is set to happen next month.
“I think you have to wait until she announces her candidacy, and I’m sure we’ll hear from her and all the other potential candidates on the Democratic side,” Buckley said. “But there is not a doubt in my mind that anyone who would seriously consider running for president on the Democratic ticket wouldn’t be in full opposition to any legislation similar to this. There’s not even a doubt in my mind.”