Democratic candidate Buttigieg brushes aside first homophobic hecklers

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Pete Buttigieg and his husband Chasten (left) after the South Bend mayor announced his candidacy

Pete Buttigieg and his husband Chasten (left) after the South Bend mayor announced his candidacy (AFP Photo/JOSHUA LOTT)

Washington (AFP) - After his meteoric rise in the race to be the Democratic nominee for president, Pete Buttigieg on Wednesday was confronted with -- and brushed aside -- the first public heckling over his homosexuality.

The 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana is the first openly gay candidate for the White House. A practicing Christian, he married his husband at an Episcopal church in his hometown.

Barely known when he jumped into the race at the end of January, he has since surged to the middle of the pack, but he remains behind the heavyweights.

His spouse was at his side when he officially launched his campaign on Sunday before heading to Iowa: a small state that is hugely influential in Democratic primaries because it is the first to hold its caucus -- in February 2020.

Larger crowds awaited him on Tuesday and Wednesday, and, in the course of interacting with voters, he encountered some who were unhappy about his sexuality.

"Remember Sodom and Gomorrah, Pete!" shouted one man during a meeting in Des Moines on Tuesday.

"You know the good news is... the condition of my soul is in the hands of God, but the Iowa caucuses are up to you," replied a composed Buttigieg, provoking laughter from the crowd.

In Fort Dodge, another Iowa city, he was interrupted by a heckler who shouted: "Grandparents, do you want your grandchildren following his example? God Loves Us."

There too Buttigieg responded calmly: "That gentleman believes that what he is doing is in line with the will of the creator -- I view it differently," adding that those with differences ought to be able to debate "in a spirit of respect."

Then on Wednesday morning, once more in Des Moines, three protesters dressed as the devil, Jesus and Buttigieg came to demonstrate in front of a house where the mayor was meeting with voters.

In a sign of his rising fame, President Donald Trump mentioned Buttigieg Wednesday among the possible Democrats he could face.

"It could be Bernie, and it could be Biden," he told SiriusXM host David Webb.

He went on: "Could be the mayor from Indiana. I think I'd like running against him, too. But it'll be interesting to see it unfold."