Confirmation hearings for Jeff Sessions as Attorney General were held this week in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Sessions attempted to deflect attention from his anti-LGBTQ statements and record through weasel-wording and outright lying. In his opening statement, he said, “I understand the demands for justice and fairness made by the LGBT community.” Considering his voting record on LGBTQ issues earned him a score of 0 from HRC and opposed LGBT anti-discrimination legislation and the Violence Against Women’s Act specifically because it included provisions for LGBT victims. On hate crimes legislation (which he also opposed), he said in 2009: “Today I’m not sure women or people with different sexual orientations face that kind of discrimination [referring to discrimination against African Americans]. I just don’t see it.”
So, no, he doesn’t “understand” our demands. So his mendacity on his LGBT record started in his opening statement.
And Patrick Leahy asked Sessions specifically about that quotation, and Sessions pretended like it never happened: “That does not sound like something I said or intended to say. I’ve seen things taken out of context and not give an accurate picture.”
In fact, in the full transcript of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in which he made the 2009 statement, he was quite clearly questioning whether anti-LGBT hate crimes are a serious problem in the US: “I thought I heard Senator Schumer say basically if you don’t vote for this bill, you’re for hate. Now, that — I don’t think he meant that. Hopefully he didn’t. But I — it kind of works — but I don’t think that’s accurate. I’m not going to be put in that box. I’m not going to be intimidated. We’re going to think this thing through. If we can show — if you can show that there’s a statistical research that indicates that a serious problem exists in this country, I’m willing to talk about it.”
If anything, the context only makes the statement sound worse. Not only are there plenty of statistics that do show that anti-LGBT hate crimes are a problem, but part of the point of the law that he was talking about was to collect statistics on anti-LGBT hate crimes because good government data wasn’t being collected.
Responding to Dianne Feinstein’s question on same-sex marriage, Sessions said that the “majority of the court has established the definition of marriage for the entire United States of America. And I will follow that decision.” Considering that it’s neither his nor the federal government’s job to perform marriages, the most he’s promising to do is to recognize them as legal facts in cases where such facts are relevant. And he still couldn’t make that promise without speaking in rightwing code; saying Obergefell “established the definition of marriage for the entire United States of America” is the way Rush Limbaugh describes that decision, not the future Attorney General.
He continued: “I understand the demand for justice and fairness made by our LGBT community. I will ensure that the statutes protecting their civil rights and their safety are fully enforced.” Since there are few statutes that protect LGBT rights, that’s not really saying much.
Instead, Sessions seemed a lot more concerned about “religious freedom,” saying it would be a high priority: “There are situations in which I believe we can reach accommodations that would allow the religious beliefs of persons to be honored in some fashion as opposed to just dictating everything under a single provision or policy. We should recognize religious freedom. It will be a very high priority of mine.” Since Sessions speaks in right-wing code even when he’s speaking to general audiences, I’m guessing “religious freedom” here means “the right of one religion to impose its practices on others.”
There were human rights protestors at the hearings and people who testified about Sessions’s racism and sexism. There are lots of reasons he’s unqualified for the job and his opposition to LGBT rights isn’t probably even in the top five. But we should still understand what to expect from him over the next four years.