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Debate Recap: Cruz, Trump and Kasich Double Down on Anti-LGBT Rhetoric

by Brandon Lorenz March 04, 2016

Today, HRC responded to the GOP debate in Detroit Michigan, where candidates John Kasich, Ted Cruz and Donald Trump doubled down on a variety of anti-LGBT positions.

Cruz, Trump and Kasich advocated for religious refusal bills that would allow businesses to discriminate and deny service to LGBT people, and reiterated their opposition to the landmark marriage equality ruling by the Supreme Court last June. These positions put them out of touch with a broad majority of Americans who both oppose such legislation and support the right of committed, loving same-sex couples to marry.

In response to a question from Fox News moderator Brett Baier, John Kasich affirmed his opposition to last year’s Supreme Court ruling establishing nationwide marriage equality and called it “common sense” that a business should be able to discriminate against and deny service to a same-sex couple for religious reasons and suggested such a couple should find another business. This marks a reversal from Kasich’s position in the last debate where he said, “f you're in the business of selling things, if you're not going to sell to somebody you don't agree with, today I'm not going to sell to somebody who's gay, then tomorrow maybe I won't sell to somebody who's divorced.”

Senator Ted Cruz not only doubled down on his support for bills that would allow businesses to deny service to LGBT people for religious reasons, he also suggested he would allow states the ability to deny qualified same-sex couples the ability to adopt children. When asked, Donald Trump then said he agreed with Cruz’s answer on religious liberty and agreed that when it comes to opposing nationwide marriage equality and adoption, “I would certainly have rather left it to the states.”

“Freedom of religion is important, which is why it is already protected by the First Amendment. John Kasich, Ted Cruz and Donald Trump embraced a future last night where LGBT people all across the country are discriminated and denied service at a business because of who they are or who they love,” said HRC Senior Vice President of Policy and Political Affairs JoDee Winterhof. “Mike Pence and others who have gone down this road have have faced a fierce backlash from their own voters and the business community, who believe that everyone, including LGBT people, should be able to live free from fear of discrimination. It’s unfortunate that so many candidates on the stage last night missed that lesson.”

Allowing businesses to refuse service to LGBT people for religious reasons puts the candidates out of step with a strong majority of Americans. Polling released by the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute last week involving more than 42,000 interviews in all 50 states found little support for so-called “religious refusal” bills that would allow a small business owner to deny service to LGBT people for religious reasons. Only 35 percent supported such a bill while 59 percent opposed.  In fact, a majority of residents in the home states of the four candidates oppose such legislation.

Marco Rubio was curiously silent during the exchange on religious refusals despite his history of support for the issue. Just this week he was endorsed by the founder of Hobby Lobby -- the company at the center of a Supreme Court ruling that allows some private businesses to deny insurance coverage of birth control because of their personal religious beliefs, a case that set a troubling precedent that could have profound impacts on access to appropriate healthcare for the LGBT community.

Rubio (along with Trump and Cruz) have also expressed support for the so-called “First Amendment Defense Act,” (FADA) which would enable more Kim Davis-like discrimination. For example, under FADA, an employee at the Department of Veterans Affairs could refuse to process a claim for survivor benefits for the same-sex spouse of a servicemember.

An overwhelming 68 percent of Americans oppose such a bill, polling conducted by GQR for HRC has found.


Paid for by Human Rights Campaign PAC and not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee.

Brandon Lorenz
Brandon Lorenz


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