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Presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg’s being gay made him stand out in the first few months of his campaign last year, earning him a surge of media attention that his relatively obscure reputation as the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, might not have inspired at the time. But focus on that character trait died down as Buttigieg introduced voters to the rest of his resume and his ability to thoughtfully respond to issues and debate.
This month, it came roaring back.
First, it was the video of an Iowa caucus-goer Feb. 5, saying she wanted her vote card in support of Buttigieg back after a campaign worker mentions that the candidate has a same-sex partner.
“I don’t want anybody like that in the White House,” the woman said. “How come this has never come out before?”
The following week, right-wing talk radio host Rush Limbaugh and pro-Trump podcaster Sebastian Gorka focused on Buttigieg’s sexual orientation.
Limbaugh’s comments got the greater attention, primarily because he made them just a week after President Trump bestowed a Presidential Medal of Freedom on him during the state of the union address.
Limbaugh told listeners he thought Democrats were probably worried that one of their frontrunners was a “gay guy” who “loves to kiss his husband on the debate stage.”
“And they’re saying, ‘OK, how’s this going to look, 37-year-old gay guy kissing his husband on stage next to Mr. Man Donald Trump?” said Limbaugh in his Feb. 12 broadcast.
Limbaugh said Democrats must be thinking that, “despite all the great progress and despite all the great wokeness, and despite all the great ground that’s been covered, America’s still not ready to elect a gay guy kissing his husband on the debate stage president.”
The remarks attracted significant media attention and some criticism, including from such high-profile Republican U.S. Sens. as Lindsey Graham, Lamar Alexander and Rob Portman.
Limbaugh claimed this week that he brought up Buttigieg’s being gay because “there’s a lot of people that don’t know [he] is gay and [think] that I sort of dropped the dime on it and let people who otherwise didn’t know that Mayor Pete is gay.”
Former Trump adviser Sebastian Gorka, during a podcast this month, asked, “Why is a homosexual man lecturing us about the sanctity of life in the womb?”
Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace asked Buttigieg about both broadcasts Feb. 16.
“I am in a faithful, loving and committed marriage. I’m proud of my marriage. And I’m proud of my husband. And I’m not going to be lectured on family values from the likes of Rush Limbaugh or anybody who supports Donald J. Trump as the moral, as well as political, leader of the United States,” Buttigieg said. “America has moved on and we should have politics of belonging that welcomes everybody. That’s what the American people are for. And I am saddened for what the Republican Party has become if they embrace that kind of homophobic rhetoric.”
And a member of the audience in this week’s town hall in Nevada raised the issue, too.
“I hate that anybody has to ask this question,” the man said, “but if you do become the nominee, how are you going to deal with [the] almost certain flood of personal attacks based on your sexual orientation?”
“Well, it will happen,” Buttigieg said, with a smile on his face, “and I’m ready.” The audience applauded.
Buttigieg reiterated the story of how he came out while running for reelection to a second term as mayor of South Bend. His reelection with 80 percent of the vote, he said, was evidence that “people were ready to judge me based on the job I was able to do for them.”
“But I also think it’s important to recognize that change on these issues and acceptance and equality, even though it’s got a long way to go, it’s also happening at a pace that a lot of people are struggling with,” Buttigieg said. “And, I think for those who haven’t quite found their way all the way to the right side of history, it’s important to beckon them in the right direction.”
Buttigieg shared the story of an older conservative woman in his community who mentioned she had recently met his “friend,” Chasten Buttigieg.
“That could have been a moment to give her a lecture on the difference between your friend and your partner,” Buttigieg said. “But what I realized was that, in her way, she was kind of inching toward the direction of acceptance. She felt good about it. She felt good that she was moving in that way. And I think that, in a moment like this, it’s really important that we find those who are maybe not quite there yet and help them get there instead of clubbing them over the head and telling them they’re bad people until they see it just the right way.”
Buttigieg did not smile when Burnett brought up the recent “homophobic comments” by Limbaugh, that America is not ready for a gay president.
Burnett noted that Limbaugh brought up the subject of Buttigieg’s being gay again this week, telling listeners that President Trump called him and urged him to “never apologize.”
“Publicly, though, Trump says he would not have a problem supporting a gay candidate,” Burnett said.
She was referring to remarks Trump made in an interview with Fox News interviewer Geraldo Rivera Feb. 13.
Regarding Trump’s comment that he would not have a problem with a gay candidate, Burnett asked Buttigieg, “Do you take him at his word?”
“Not if he’s sending out his supporters to talk in this way,” Buttigieg said. “And look … the idea that the likes of Rush Limbaugh or Donald Trump lecturing anybody on family values …”
The audience interrupted with applause.
Buttigieg doubled down at the CNN town hall.
“I mean, one thing about my marriage is it’s never involved me having to send hush money to a porn star after cheating on my spouse,” Buttigieg said.
The crowd roared.
“So, they want to debate family values, let’s debate family values,” he said. “I’m ready.”
Meanwhile, a newly formed group of LGBTQ people in San Francisco, QueersAgainstPete, issued an open letter this month saying that “being gay is not enough to earn the support of LGBTQIA communities.” But Equality California and Silver State Equality of Nevada have endorsed Buttigieg.