Buttigieg, Pence trade barbs over their Christian faith

Buttigieg, who is credited with helping turn South Bend around, has couched himself as a can-do reformer who can speak to voters across the political spectrum (AFP Photo/Don Emmert) (AFP/File)

Washington (AFP) - Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg extended his week-long, faith-related war of words with Mike Pence Friday, pointing to the vice president's policies that "discriminate" against gay and lesbian Americans.

Buttigieg, who went from virtual unknown to budding political phenomenon in just weeks, has mentioned Pence -- the former governor of his home state, Indiana -- multiple times in recent speeches.

In a recent address to an LGBTQ organization the rising Democratic star said his same sex marriage had brought him "closer to God."

"I don't have a problem with religion, I'm religious too. I have a problem with religion being used as a justification to harm people," Buttigieg, who if elected would be America's first gay president, told NBC's The Ellen Show.

"I'm not interested in feuding with the vice president. But if he wanted to clear this up, he could come out today and say he's changed his mind, that it shouldn't be legal to discriminate against anybody in this country for who they are."

Buttigieg, 37, has been mayor of South Bend, Indiana for seven years, while Pence was governor until joining Donald Trump as number two on the ticket in 2016.

The political opponents worked together on common-ground issues like infrastructure but clashed over a 2015 religious freedom bill signed by Pence that Buttigieg and others warned allowed people to discriminate on religious grounds.

Pence pushed back against Buttigieg's recent remarks, telling CNN that "he said some things that are critical of my Christian faith, and about me personally, and he knows better."

Last weekend Buttigieg, speaking at the Victory Fund, highlighted his own Christian devotion and how it helps guide him.

And Buttigieg, who married his husband in a church service last year, challenged Pence over opposing same-sex marriage.

"My marriage to Chasten has made me a better man -- and yes Mr Vice President, it has moved me closer to God," he said.

"I can tell you that if me being gay was a choice, it was a choice that was made far, far above my pay grade," he added.

"And that's the thing I wish the Mike Pences of the world would understand. That if you got a problem with who I am, your problem is not with me; your quarrel, sir, is with my creator."

The debate has cast the campaign spotlight on faith, as Democrats challenge the stranglehold that fundamentalist conservatives have on what it means to be Christian, especially in the Trump era.