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Trump ‘religious freedom’ nominee refuses to condemn antigay executions

Sam Brownback
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback refused to answer questions on his LGBTQ stance during his Senate confirmation hearing. Photo: YouTube/Sen. Tim Kaine

President Trump’s nominee for U.S. ambassador for international religious freedom will not condemn of foreign governments for jailing and even killing people for being members of the LGBTQ community.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback faced tough questioning during his Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday, from Senators Tim Kaine and Jeanne Shaheen.

Kaine asked Brownback if he was aware that many countries have harsh punishments for homosexuality, including imprisonment and death. Brownback agreed, and Kaine connected the issue to religious freedom, noting that dogma is at the root of such laws.

Brownback avoided directly answering the question on numerous occassions, instead noting that he had spoken with Randy Berry, the first Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons, and agrees with the position he has taken across the world.

Berry was appointed to serve the Obama administration, and in February it was announced that he would stay on in that same role in the Trump administration. The news angered some Christian conservatives, including Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council who stumped for Trump, who called it “a disappointing development.”

“That really wasn’t my question,” Kaine told Brownback, followed by a reassertion of the question at hand.

“Is there any circumstance under which religious freedom can justify criminalizing, imprisoning, or executing people based on their LGBT status,” Kaine asked.

Again, Brownback dodged, bringing up Berry yet again, as well as the work done with Obama’s religious freedom ambassador David Saperstein.

“I’m going to close with this question, I’d like an answer to this question,” Kaine tried again. “Is there any circumstance under which criminializing, imprisoning, or executing someone based on their LGBT status could be deemed acceptable because somebody asserts that they are religiously motivated in doing so.”

“I don’t know what that would be, in what circumstance,” Brownback said. “But I would continue the policies that have been done in the prior administration in working on these international issues.”

“I really would expect an unequivocal answer on that, but my time is up,” Kaine concluded.

Kaine also grilled Brownback on his reversal in 2015 of an executive order that had provided protection in the state workforce against adverse employment action on the grounds of sexual orientation.

Brownback claimed he felt “those sorts of issues should be passed by a legislative branch” instead of going through executive order, despite the fact that he has issued orders of his own.

Kaine called him out on this fact, forcing him to admit that he has signed executive orders as well, and that the very point of those orders is to get past the need for legislative approval.

Brownback’s anti-LGBTQ voting record also includes voting against adding sexual orientation to hate crime protections, voting for a constitutional ban on marriage equality.

Shaheen asked if Brownback would work with organizations who are not only working for religious freedom issues, but also women’s rights and LGBTQ rights issues as well. The governor said he would work with anyone who wants to advance the issue of religious freedom, and seek bipartisan support.

“Brownback’s long history of anti-LGBTQ actions in Congress and as governor was reflected in his refusal at his hearing today to unequivocally condemn the inhumane treatment, including execution, of people based on sexual orientation and gender identity,” said David Stacy, the Human Rights Campaign’s director of government affairs. “While he expressed some support for the LGBTQ human rights work at the State Department, his other responses give us every reason to believe that Brownback will continue to use his own narrow view of ‘religious freedom’ as permission to discriminate against LGBTQ people.”

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