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    Gay Presidential Candidate Takes Center Stage

    By Stuart Gaffney and John Lewis–

    By all accounts, openly gay Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg dazzled a national audience with his performance at a CNN town hall on March 10.

    As marriage equality advocates, we were struck—and gratified—from the very start. Moderator Jake Tapper in a completely unsensational manner offered Buttigieg the opportunity to talk about his husband, Chasten Glezman. Tapper playfully asked Buttigieg about the slightly different ways that he and his husband guide their Twitter followers on the pronunciation of the family name Buttigieg (we like the ease of Glezman’s suggestion: “Buddha Judge”).

    Tapper conversed with Buttigieg no differently than he would a straight person, beginning: “I don’t want to get in the middle of a marital squabble … .” And after bantering with the candidate for a few moments, Tapper applauded Buttigieg’s answer to the question as “very diplomatic. I feel like you said your way was right but then you did not throw your husband under the bus, which is—I guarantee you that is the right path.” 

    More seriously, Tapper gave Buttigeig the opportunity to talk about the support his father, who passed away recently after a long illness, gave to him personally and to his candidacy. Buttigeig described speaking to his dad when he was hospitalized and intubated: “So I said, you know, I hope I’ll make you proud. And he mouthed around the tube, ‘You will.’”

    Buttigieg spoke eloquently at the town hall about the importance of LGBTIQ rights and what’s at stake personally for queer people. “I think the whole point of politics is everyday life. And part of how I understand that is that the most important thing in my life—my marriage to my husband—exists by the grace of a single vote on the U.S. Supreme Court.”

    Crucially, Buttigieg discussed “policy options” to “stop the Supreme Court from sliding toward being viewed as a nakedly political institution.” Buttigieg described the “radical … shattering of norms that Senate Republicans have gone through in order to get the court to where it is today.” 

    One proposal “of many” that Buttigeig highlighted as deserving consideration was restructuring the Supreme Court by expanding the number of justices from 9 to 15, with 10 of the justices appointed under current procedures and the other 5 “seated by unanimous consent” of the other 10. According to Buttigeig, “those five by necessity will be those who command the respect of the other 10 across the ideological spectrum and can be counted on to think for themselves.” 

    We cannot overstate the importance of the U.S. Supreme Court to all aspects of LGBTIQ rights, and Buttigeig’s articulation of innovative ways to address the current crisis at the Court stood out to us.  His words gave us renewed hope for the future of the high court.
    Buttigeig also made clear the “need [for] a federal equality act that would say that you cannot be fired just because of who you are or just because of who you love.”

    And he condemned Trump’s attacks on transgender people. Buttigeig, himself an Iraq War veteran, pointed to Trump’s “picking on [transgender] troops, people willing to lay down their lives for this country” and transgender high school students. He was appalled at the message a vulnerable “transgender teen” gets when “the highest officials in the land can’t tell the difference between her and a predator and make it harder for her to go to the bathroom.”

    Buttigeig further called out Vice President Pence on his hypocrisy in using religion to further his political goals. Buttigeig named the so-called “religious freedom” act that Pence championed as governor of Indiana for what it is: “really a license to discriminate,” using “your religion as an excuse for discriminating.”

    More generally, Buttigeig wondered how Pence, who claims to be such a devoted Christian, could “allow himself to become the cheerleader of the porn star presidency?” He asked if Pence had “stopped believing in scripture when he started believing in Donald Trump?”

    In describing the broad and bipartisan coalition that came together to oppose Pence’s discriminatory actions in Indiana several years ago, Buttigieg pointed to a shared belief in “just decency” as what brought people together to stand against discrimination.  We like the unintended double meaning of the phase “just decency”:  simple human decency and decency founded in justice. 

    Buttigeig credited that type of decency for his re-election as mayor of South Bend, Indiana. Buttigeig came out during the campaign and acknowledged that he was unsure how it would play “in a socially conservative community.” And to much applause from the town hall audience, he revealed: “I wound up getting re-elected with 80 percent of the vote.”

    We have not yet decided which candidate we will support in the upcoming presidential election. But who knows? If Buttigeig’s entry on the national stage last week is a harbinger of what’s to come and “just decency” has a role to play, our nation could be inaugurating its first openly gay president in January 2021.

    John Lewis and Stuart Gaffney, together for over three decades, were plaintiffs in the California case for equal marriage rights decided by the California Supreme Court in 2008. Their leadership in the grassroots organization Marriage Equality USA contributed in 2015 to making same-sex marriage legal nationwide.