Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence side-stepped a question Sunday on whether a business owner should be allowed to engage in anti-gay bias, saying he opposes discrimination, but the matter should be resolved by the courts.
The candidate, who as Indiana governor signed into law a “religious freedom” bill seen to enable anti-LGBT discrimination before being forced to a fix for the measure, made the remarks on Fox News Sunday in response to a question from moderator Chris Wallace.
Pence initially said he personally opposes anti-gay discrimination when Wallace asked the vice presidential candidate if a business owner “should have the right to refuse to serve a gay” for religious reasons.
“If I was in a restaurant and I saw someone denied service because they were gay, my family wouldn’t eat there again,” Pence replied. “I don’t believe in discrimination and I don’t support discrimination against anyone.”
But Pence never said whether it should be illegal to discriminate against gay people, referring to the courts as the ultimate arbiters of the issue.
“But when there is a conflict of rights here in our society, those are the proper purview of the courts,” Pence said. “And I do believe that the efforts we made in Indiana contributed to being able to resolve those things as Americans have done for generations.”
Although no federal law prohibits anti-gay discrimination in public accommodations, a total of 22 states and D.C. have explicit laws barring businesses for refusing services to customers based on sexual orientation. A number of business owners have challenged these laws after they were penalized for denying services to gay people on the basis of religious objections.
In Mississippi, a law enabling sweeping anti-LGBT discrimination, including the denial of services to gay people, is being challenged in court. Review of a lower court injunction against the law is pending before the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which Friday the court declined to lift pending appeal.
The designation of authority to the courts on the issue flies in the face of Pence’s position the U.S. Supreme Court shouldn’t have granted marriage rights to same-sex couples across the country last year. Pence, an opponent of same-sex marriage, said the courts shouldn’t have inferred and the issue should be left to the states.
The Equality Act, pending comprehensive LGBT non-discrimination legislation before Congress, would expand the categories of public accommodations under federal civil rights law and bar the denial of services in them on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Watch the full interview here (Exchange begins around 14:15)