The former congressman and CIA director nominated to represent the United States to the international community is largely expected to be confirmed by the end of April. While even Democrats appear inclined to vote in his favor, secretary of state nominee Mike Pompeo opposes gay marriage, and during his confirmation hearings, appeared to think that wasn't an issue. For someone expected to engage in diplomacy with a multitude of foreign leaders, however, it's a pretty big deal.
Sen. Cory Booker grilled Pompeo on the topic during his hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday, April 12. He preempted his question by letting Pompeo know that he wanted to give him an opportunity "to speak about [his] comments about gays and lesbians."
"You said in a speech, that, mourning an America that 'endorses a perversion and calls it an alternative lifestyle' – those are your words. Is being gay a perversion?" Sen. Booker asked Pompeo. The comments in question were made in 2015, when Pompeo was a congressman in Kansas.
When questioned about his remarks, Pompeo doubled down on his views. "Senator, when I was a politician I had a very clear view on whether it was appropriate for two same sex persons to marry," Pompeo replied. "I stand by that."
Immediately, Booker asked him the same question, directly asking if Pompeo opposed gay marriage. Again, Pompeo said he still held the same views that he did when he was a representative for Kansas.
Upon further questioning, Pompeo insisted that he treated people the same, regardless of their sexual orientations. Specifically, he said that he knew of gay couples within the CIA while he was the agency's director. "My respect for every individual regardless of their sexual orientation is the same, and it will continue to be so if I am confirmed," Pompeo said.
Whether or not the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will vote in support of confirming Pompeo is currently unclear. However, what it ultimately decides may not matter. Even if the committee declines to offer its support, the Senate as a whole is anticipated to move in favor of his nomination. That being said, if Pompeo enters office without the support of the committee, he will be the first secretary of state to start the job with an unfavorable vote since at least 1925, according to CNN. No public records are reportedly available from confirmation hearings which took place earlier on.
As Sen. Booker was quick to point out, Pompeo's political views matter, as he will ostensibly be working with foreign diplomats who come from countries where LGBTQ people face serious oppression. That's even further complicated by the fact that while the United States has made recent strides with LGBTQ rights — legalizing gay marriage nationwide in 2015, for example — they're still tenuous in the United States and constantly under siege by opponents.
But while the United States has been taking steps toward equality, many countries around the world lag much further behind. If, as Booker pointed out, the secretary of state is expected to represent American values, it could be problematic that the head U.S. diplomat doesn't agree with fundamental rights established by the country's highest court.
Indeed, gay rights advocates in the United States were quick to express their concern. "Mike Pompeo's reaffirmed opposition to marriage equality and LGBTQ rights further proves that he is dangerously wrong to serve as our Nation’s chief diplomat,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD, in a statement following the confirmation hearing. "His ... clear refusal to support the hard-fought equal rights of the LGBTQ community make him wholly unqualified to promote human rights abroad."
Pompeo otherwise moved through his confirmation hearing rather seamlessly. But if he is, in fact, confirmed, his actions and speech surrounding LGBTQ rights both internationally and domestically will be something to look out for.