CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Former Vice President Joe Biden defended his record on LGBTQ issues amidst sharp questioning at a campaign forum on the topic Friday where a female moderator said he condescendingly called her “a real sweetheart” after their question-and-answer session.
Biden has frequently boasted on the campaign trail of his track record on LGBTQ rights— he was ahead of President Obama in endorsing the right to same-sex marriage —but seemed taken aback by questioning on stage at the forum sponsored by the advocacy group GLAAD.
The moderator for his session, Cedar Rapids Gazette columnist Lyz Lenz, asked Biden early in their conversation about his past votes for the Defense of Marriage Act, the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that forbade openly gay people from serving and his statement earlier this year that Vice President Mike Pence, known for his socially conservative positions, was “a decent guy.”
"You're a lovely person," Biden replied drolly.
"Just asking the questions that people want to know," Lenz responded.
After the session, Lenz said as she walked off stage Biden dryly remarked to her that she was “a real sweetheart.” She told USA TODAY that she found the Democratic presidential frontrunner’s remark condescending.
“It’s 2019, you shouldn’t be calling women sweethearts,” Lenz said.
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Biden campaign officials declined to comment on the exchange.
During his back-and-forth on stage with Lenz, who has expressed her preference for Democrats to nominate a female presidential candidate, Biden attempted to spotlight that he was ahead of the curve among politicians in his backing of same-sex marriage.
The former vice president also repeated an oft told story about his father underscoring acceptance when he was a teen and saw two men kiss at the town square.
“He said, ‘Joey, it’s simple,’ ” Biden said. “They love each other. That’s the only question”
Biden’s vote in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996 — which barred the U.S. government from recognizing same-sex unions for the purpose of determining eligibility for federal benefits — came amidst a heated election season when the Republican majority in Congress looking to paint then President Clinton and Democrats as out of stop with public sentiment.
At the time, public sentiment was strongly opposed to same sex marriage with 68% of American public opposed and 27% supporting it, according to Gallup.
In 1992, Biden have voted to table an amendment which would “prohibit the District of Columbia from using any funds ... to extend employment, health or governmental benefits to homosexual or heterosexual couples on the same basis that such benefits are extended to legally married couples.”
In 2004 and 2006, Biden helped defeat an effort in the Senate to impose a Constitutional Amendment that would defined marriage as a union only consisting of a man and woman.
At the time of the passage Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell — which was introduced by openly gay Rep. Barney Frank in 1993 — the legislation was seen as a compromise measure that would allow gays to serve in the military. The statute was eventually repealed in 2010.
Biden previously has clarified that when he referred to Pence as a “decent guy” during a speech in Omaha earlier this year, he was trying to make the point in a foreign policy context.
"I’ve been a strong, strong advocate,” Biden said at the Cedar Rapids forum. “My son Beau — the one who is deceased — set up the Beau Biden foundation to deal with children who are abused and gay and lesbian children and transgender children. He passed the first transgender (rights) law in Delaware, as attorney general, to make sure there was in fact no discrimination and so on. I am very proud of my record.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Writer says Biden called her 'a real sweetheart' after tough exchange