DECORAH, Iowa — In the aftermath of the Trump administration unveiling a proposed rule change enabling taxpayer-funded adoption agencies to deny placement in LGBT families, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg has denounced the move as “a huge step backward.”
The gay 2020 presidential hopeful made the comments on his Iowa campaign bus en route to a rally in Waverly, Iowa, under questioning from the Washington Blade.
“I think it’s a huge step backward,” Buttigieg said. “It’s bad enough that discrimination is taking place across the country, but when discrimination is being supported with federal funds, it takes away, first of all the movement justice and equality, but also an opportunity for the federal government to show leadership in advancing equality.”
The Department of Health & Human Services on Friday announced the proposed rule change, which would reverse an Obama-era regulation implemented in December 2016 to prohibiting recipients of federal grants, most notably adoption agencies, from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and transgender status.
Buttigieg pointed out reversing of the rule was part and parcel to “a whole bunch of things they’ve done on the administrative side” in the current White House to undermine LGBT rights.
Although Buttigieg said a lot of focus is on the Equality Act, legislation that would categorically ban anti-LGBT discrimination under federal law, more attention should be paid to the administrative changes the Trump administration is making against LGBT rights.
“I’m guessing there are some things we haven’t even heard much about yet that are happening across the departments, the way they make changes in practice, the way they set up some of these offices,” Buttigieg said.
The Trump administration has cited complaints from religious organizations that obtain federal grants threatening to end services entirely if forced to comply with LGBT non-discrimination rules. Just last month, a federal judge ruled in favor of St. Vincent, a Lansing, Mich.-based adoption agency, which seeking to get out state and federal non-discrimination requirements on religious grounds.
Asked by the Blade whether it’s right to impose non-discrimination rules unilaterally through regulation on religious organizations, Buttigieg said recipients of federal grants should be held to “the highest standard.”
“Regulations obviously create more of a complex landscape constitutionally, but we know that we can and should apply non-discrimination [rules],” he said.
Buttigieg also drew a distinction between requiring religious organizations to adhere to rules against LGBT non-discrimination and dictating their religious belief to them.
“That is different from telling religious organizations what their theology ought to be, or invading their practice or religious belief,” Buttigieg said. “We’re talking about social services being offered in partnership with the taxpayer, and that creates an obligation and shared expectation for the United States.”
Asked whether he’d reinstate the regulations as implemented during the Obama administration, Buttigieg demurred, but signaled his intent to return to that general direction.
“I’d want look at how we might revise it in carrying things forward, so I don’t say that I’d cut and paste, but we’d certainly move back in that direction,” Buttigieg said.