Vice President Mike Pence called homosexuality a “choice” and “learned behavior” in recently unearthed comments from the 1990s.
Earlier this month, the White House argued that Pence is not anti-gay, pointing to a lunch he had with Ireland’s gay prime minister Leo Varadkar.
That sentiment was met with ridicule from LGBTQ organizations, who pointed to Pence’s long history of anti-LGBTQ actions and statements, both as vice president and as governor of Indiana.
Now, CNN has discovered comments made by Pence in the early 1990s where he clearly states that he believes homosexuality to be “a choice,” as part of a wider stance that gay people should not be protected from discrimination.
CNN’s KFile investigation team found newspaper clippings with reports of Pence’s comments, where he argued that, unlike African-Americans, gay people were not deserving of discrimination because they choose to be a minority group.
“Once you identify homosexuals as a minority, then by definition they would need to be afforded constitutional protection,” Pence said. “Up to this point, our legal tradition in America has drawn a line over those things. I do not choose whether I am a black American…the great vast majority of the psychological community says homosexuality at a very minimum is a choice by the individual, and at the maximum, is a learned behavior.”
But in 1992 the American Psychological Association said that current data did not support the notion that homosexuality is a choice, and studies at the time instead linked homosexuality with biology and genetics, CNN found.
Pence was also discovered to have fought against the introduction of a nondiscrimination ordinance in Lafayette, Indiana, which would have protected gay people from discrimination in housing, public accommodations, and employment.
At the time, Pence was president of conservative think tank Indiana Policy Review Foundation, and he argued that protecting gay people was a “very bad move” that would open “a Pandora’s Box of legal rights and legal difficulties once you identify homosexuals as a discrete and insular minority.”
“They’re discussing [in Lafayette] what I suspect will be one of the biggest issues of the ’90s,” Pence said. “You’ve got a tiger by the tail.”
The ordinance ultimately passed in May 1993.
CNN’s discovery produces what is believed to be the first record of Pence publicly calling homosexuality a choice — a belief that tied in with his future congressional campaign, where he supported conversion therapy efforts to forcibly change a person’s sexual orientation.
In a statement on his congressional campaign website in 2000, he argued for resources to be directed away from “organisations that celebrate and encourage the types of behaviors that facilitate the spreading of the HIV virus” and instead go towards “those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.”
Pence has a long history of opposing LGBTQ rights, including saying in June that Donald Trump banning American embassies from flying LGBTQ Pride flags during Pride Month was “the right decision.”
As governor of Indiana, Pence supported the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” which allowed businesses and individuals to discriminate against LGBTQ people.
In addition, Pence opposes same-sex marriage, once telling Congress it would bring “societal collapse.” He opposed the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. And he opposed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would have banned discrimination against people based on sexuality.
In 2017, a New Yorker column alleged that Trump joked about Pence wanting to “hang” every gay person.
Democratic presidential candidate Mayor Pete Buttigieg has previously pushed back against the vice president’s bigotry, telling CNN’s New Day in April that Pence uses religion “as an excuse to harm other people.”