Mike Pence was never a supporter of gay legal equality but as Carl M. Cannon writes at Real Clear Politics, much of the criticism of his past positions is unfair (many liberal Democrats, at the time, said similar things against marriage equality and in favor of “don’t ask, don’t tell” in the military) when not downright disingenuous (the accusations he wanted the government to fund “conversion therapy” centers).
The conversion therapy charge, Cannon noted, stems from langauge on Pence’s congressional campaign website back in 2000, addressing reauthorization of the Ryan White CARE Act to fund AIDS resources:
In the section providing funding for indigent HIV patients (that’s where the “needy” reference comes from), Pence’s campaign website advocates making sure federal dollars aren’t going to organizations that “encourage the types of behaviors that facilitate the spreading of the HIV virus.” Instead, the site, says, “Resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.”
So there’s your “conversion therapy” angle. It’s thin gruel, especially because in the context of the times and the Ryan White Act, a more obvious reading of the statement is that Pence’s campaign literature called for spending federal money encouraging “safe sex,” not changing sexual orientation.
I’d say it’s quite possible the idea, deliberately vague, was meant as a call for abstinence. But that’s not the same as advocating federal funding for conversion therapy, as Trump/Pence LGBT critics have been suggesting he did explicitly.
[Added: Reader Throbert McGee commments that the conversion therapy accusation “very quickly got transmogrified into “ELECTROCUTING THE GAY OUT OF KIDS!!!” And indeed, the Daily Beast, among others, without reference or source, “reported” that Pence favors conversion therapy, which they then define as “providing electric shocks; using shame to create aversion to same-sex attractions.” The truth is out there, but not on progressive news sites.]
More. As Politico reported, “In 2015, Pence initially signed a [statewide] Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or RFRA. He then backpedaled on language that critics feared could be discriminatory against gay people, but that some evangelicals felt was essential to defending religious freedom.”
Readers of this blog know that I strongly favor religious exemptions to anti-discrimination law, viewing them as a necessary way to balance the competing “rights” of religious freedom from state coercion and nondiscrimination. I reject the view of LGBT progressive activists that religious exemptions are merely a “license to discriminate” and agree with Jonathan Rauch that they have been an important component of our civil rights legacy.
A big issue in Indiana is that there is no statewide LGBT nondiscrimination measure against which a religious exemption was needed, although several counties, townships and cities (including Bloomington, Muncie and South Bend) do prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Nevertheless, Pence got pounded by progressive groups and their media and business allies for supporting and signing a religious exemption bill, and Indiana faced economic boycott threats. Pence then supported and signed an amendment that weakened the language in the measure so that it did not exempt businesses from LGBT nondiscrimination statutes, which enraged religious conservatives. He ended up pleasing no one and appeared to have short-circuited his political ambitions. Then history happened.