By Chris Johnson
Donald Trump has fortified the anti-LGBT positions he’s expressed over the course of his campaign by tapping as an adviser former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, a two-time presidential candidate with a notoriously anti-LGBT record.
The actions are the result of Trump’s creation of a 35-member Catholic Advisory Council, which includes, in addition to Santorum, other individuals with anti-LGBT records.
Accompanying the creation of the council is a new statement from Trump outlining “Issues of Importance to Catholics” and reiterating his support for the First Amendment Defense Act, a federal “religious freedom” bill seen to enable anti-LGBT discrimination.
Emphasizing his commitment to “religious liberty,” Trump hints at opposition to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in favor of same-sex marriage and President Obama’s executive order barring anti-LGBT discrimination among federal contractors.
“Religious liberty is enshrined in the First Amendment to the Constitution,” Trump said. “It is our first liberty and provides the most important protection in that it protects our right of conscience. Activist judges and executive orders issued by presidents who have no regard for the Constitution have put these protections in jeopardy. If I am elected president and Congress passes the First Amendment Defense Act, I will sign it to protect the deeply held religious beliefs of Catholics and the beliefs of Americans of all faiths.”
Trump doesn’t identify which executive orders he thinks are “issued by presidents who have no regard for the Constitution,” but from the context of the paragraph, he implies a reference to Obama’s LGBT executive order because the initial version of the First Amendment Defense Act would have undermined that directive. (The most recent version of the bill has language that wouldn’t affect federal for-profit contracting.) Trump has said he would repeal executive orders he deems unconstitutional, which could include Obama’s LGBT directive.
In addition to expressing opposition to abortion rights and Common Core, the statement reiterates Trump’s pledge to appoint justices to the Supreme Court in the mold of the late U.S. Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, who dissented in rulings against DOMA, state bans on same-sex marriage and state laws criminalizing same-sex relations.
“Judicial nominations, particularly appointments to the United States Supreme Court, are one of the most critical issues of this election,” Trump said. “I will appoint Justices to the Supreme Court like the late and beloved great Catholic thinker and jurist, Justice Antonin Scalia, who will strictly interpret the Constitution and not legislate from the bench.”
Meanwhile, the top name in the list of members of the new Catholic advisory group is Santorum, whose long anti-LGBT record can be traced to a 2003 interview in which he infamously compared homosexuality in 2003 to “man on child, man on dog” behavior.
In his most recent bid for the Republican presidential nomination, Santorum said he’d ignore the U.S. Supreme Court decision against the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act and compared the ruling in favor of marriage equality nationwide to the 1857 Dred Scott decision determining slaves are property.
Santorum was among the candidates in the 2016 election who signed a pledge with the anti-LGBT National Organization for Marriage to oppose same-sex marriage and back a U.S. constitutional amendment against it. The candidate also pledged to push during his first 100 days in the White House for passage of the First Amendment Defense Act.
Trump, perhaps wrongly, gained a reputation for being a relatively pro-LGBT Republican presidential candidate in part for refusing to sign these pledges, but now has brought inside his campaign a rival who did sign them.
Another member of Trump’s advisory group is Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, who fought the ruling in favor of same-sex marriage in his state, rescinded an executive order prohibiting anti-LGBT discrimination against state employees and signed into law a “religious freedom” bill against LGBT students.
Other members are four sitting members of Congress: Reps. Andrew Harris, R-Md.; Steve Chabot, R-Ohio; Mike Kelly, R-Pa.; and Sean Duffy, R-Wis. Harris, Chabot and Kelly are co-sponsors of the First Amendment Defense Act, but Duffy is not.
Trump’s Catholic Advisory Group is similar to the evangelical advisory group he created in June that gave top billing to former presidential candidate and Rep. Michele Bachmann, who also has an anti-LGBT reputation.
Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of the pro-LGBT Catholic group DignityUSA, said she doesn’t recognize all 35 names on the council, but “many whose presence among Trump’s chosen advisors on Catholicism raise grave concern.”
“It seems to be a group hand-picked by the U.S.Conference of Catholic Bishops — anti-LGBTQ, anti-women’s rights, for the expansion of religious exemptions,” Duddy-Burke said. “Among them are people well known for anti-LGBTQ statements and actions, including Rick Santorum, Marjorie Dannenfelser and Austin Ruse. Overall, this seems to be a blatant attempt to court conservative Catholics, to shore up Trump’s anti-choice credentials, and to show himself as aligned with Catholic doctrine.”
Pointing to polls demonstrating a majority of Catholics support LGBT rights, Duddy-Burke said the advisory board shows Trump is misinformed about Catholics in the U.S.
“I guess he has never seen the myriad polls that show that solid majorities of Catholic voters do not agree with official teachings, and certainly don’t believe they should be public policy in the U.S.,” Duddy-Burke said.