LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky’s only Democratic congressman did not eat the ham on Thursday.
As Gov. Matt Bevin and U.S. Sens. Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul arrived at the annual Kentucky Country Ham Breakfast, Rep. John Yarmuth demonstrated outside with a small group of gay rights activists.
They targeted the Kentucky Farm Bureau’s highest-profile event to protest the organization’s conservative stands on social issues including same-sex marriage and abortion.
The Farm Bureau is “on the wrong side” of history and the law with its stand opposing same-sex marriage, argued Yarmuth, a five-term congressman from Louisville.
“My entire complaint with them is, why do you get involved in these emotional social issues that have no relation to farming and that alienate people who would otherwise be supportive of your agricultural agenda?” he said.
The Farm Bureau is one of the state’s most influential lobbying organizations, with nearly 470,000 members. A mix of pork, political speeches and the auction of the state’s grand champion ham drew more than 1,600 people to its annual breakfast this year.
“I know some people don’t like ham,” the Republican governor said in his speech. “But I don’t know if you saw some of these people outside, they’re taking it to an extreme. They apparently really don’t like ham. Just don’t eat it. Just don’t eat the ham.”
Fairness Campaign director Chris Hartman, wearing a T-shirt calling the Farm Bureau “Big on Discrimination,” said the organization’s lobbying has helped foster an anti-LGBT atmosphere in Kentucky.
Inside, Kentucky Farm Bureau President Mark Haney insisted that its policies “reflect the mood of Kentucky.”
“To be clear, Kentucky Farm Bureau does not discriminate. We follow the law,” Haney said, drawing applause.
Paul, seeking re-election in November after failing to gain traction in the presidential race, praised Farm Bureau members for “believing that every life matters, from before birth to after birth.”
Paul says he gets a copy of the Farm Bureau’s policy book every year.
“I read it and I say, ‘hurray,'” Paul said. “We’ve got to have tolerance on both sides. The other side just wants to tell us we’ve got to give up on everything we believe in.”
Most of the policies in the 2016 book address nitty-gritty agricultural issues, but it also says “marriage should only be recognized as the legal union of a man and woman,” and states opposition to abortion and to any state-supported agency providing domestic partner benefits.
Paul’s Democratic opponent, Lexington Mayor Jim Gray, who is openly gay, told reporters he supports the protesters and wants to find “common ground.”
“I think the Farm Bureau needs to adjust and adapt to the times, and that means adjusting their policies,” said Gray.