All Things Being Equal at CNN’s Town Hall… But Not Really

OPINION | This article contains political commentary which reflects the author's opinion.

Pete Buttigieg is disarming, with his baby face, his good-natured humor, his diplomatic responses and his deceptively feel-good ideals. He is also dead wrong about a few things.

Make no mistake – the South Bend, Indiana mayor’s boyish charm served a deeper purpose than amusing an audience on Thursday at the CNN Equality Town Hall. Buttigieg hopes to gain the Democratic presidential nomination for 2020 and make way for a plan “specifically aimed at protecting the rights of LGBTQ people.” Plans drafted by Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren, Beto O’Rourke and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand were released ahead of the meeting.

Buttigieg fielded this audience question from Andrew Beaudoin, a small business owner:

“As a Christian, can you point to any teachings in faith which state things like ‘Thou shalt not serve the gays meatloaf in diner’ or other religious verse which provides instruction to the faithful to deny service, housing or other services to LGBTQ people?”

His immediate response? To go in for the kill…with kindness:

“…Without telling others how to worship – the Christian tradition that I belong to instructs me to identify with the marginalized and to recognize that the greatest thing that any of us has to offer is love.”

How sweet. And it almost seems like he believes everyone has the right to apply their faith in accordance with what they believe is right, doesn’t it?

“Religious liberty is an important principle in this country, and we honor that. It’s also the case that any freedom that we honor in this country has limits when it comes to harming other people.”

This was met with huge applause. *Well, that sounds about right. It’s both patriotic and nice. Let’s nod and clap to show we totally agree.

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“We say that the right to free speech does not include the right to yell ‘fire’ in a crowded theater. A famous justice once said, ‘My right to swing my fist ends where somebody else’s nose begins.’ And the right to religious freedom ends where religion is being used as an excuse to harm other people.”

Even bigger applause now for being folksy and legal, like Atticus Finch…except for a couple of small problems…

  1. That fire saying has been overused and misused. Here’s the truth about falsely yelling “fire” – legally speaking, you can. It would be a real jackass move, but a court would have to prove that you incited a riot by doing so. See? Just speech. And it’s still free.
  2. We need to agree on the legal definition of “harm.” If by harm you mean “physical harm,” then I agree that my religious freedom cannot include injuring your person. No human sacrifices to appease the gods. However, if by harm you mean “to hurt your feelings,” then my right to religious freedom does not end where your feelings begin. Sorry, not sorry.

“…When religion is used in that way, to me, it makes God smaller. It, to me, is an insult – not only to us as LGBTQ people – but I think it’s an insult to faith to believe that it could be used to hurt people in that way.”

A minor point here: Nothing humans do, or don’t do, can make God…anything. Not smaller. Not bigger.

Question: What’s the difference between a jerkface using religion as an excuse to be nasty to people – obnoxious but legal – and a charming person using the “offended” card as a weapon to force others to do something their understanding of faith disallows? Both are wrong; the last one is just more pleasant at garden parties.

During the meeting, Anderson Cooper referenced an exchange in April between Buttigieg and Vice President Mike Pence:

“You said, ‘If you’ve got a problem with who I am, your problem is not with me. Your quarrel, Sir, is with my Creator.’ Do you believe God made you gay?”

I gotta say it: Who you choose to have sex with doesn’t make you who you are. It also doesn’t make you a hero. But I commend the guy on his almost Shakespearean response.

“Well, the decision was definitely made way above my pay grade and if you belong to the Christian tradition that I belong to, then you believe that God loves you. And you look around and you notice that you’re gay and those two things exist at the same time…”

Love doesn’t equal approval. It also doesn’t mean everyone must do what you want them to do. But you did make people chuckle, so kudos on lightening the mood.

“…Nothing has made me feel more connected, more able to be true, however imperfectly, to my faith than the experience of putting myself second that came with committing my life to my husband, Chasten…I really feel that that marriage moved me closer to God.”

He and Chasten Glezman married in a private ceremony in 2018. And with that last bit of romantic absurdity and misguided theology, Buttigieg just weaponized that marriage.

Scrolling through viewer reactions on social media makes it clear: It might not be difficult for Buttigieg to gain the nomination. A lot of people think he’s an absolute doll. And if he actually gets elected? We can expect him to start taking religious freedoms away from people who disagree with his lifestyle in the name of what he calls “equality.” But I’m sure he’ll be super nice about it.