Mike Pence said in the 1990s that being gay was 'a choice' or a 'learned behavior,' but the White House says he isn't 'anti-gay'

Kat Tenbarge
Mike Pence

AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

  • After meeting with the prime minister of Ireland and his male partner for lunch, a White House spokesperson suggested on Twitter that Vice President Mike Pence couldn't be "anti-gay."

  • But Pence has a track record of touting anti-gay statements and policies as early as the 1990s before he was elected to office but had already run a congressional campaign.

  • In opposing a local Indiana effort to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation, Pence said "the great vast majority of the psychological community says homosexuality at a very minimum is a choice by the individual, and at the maximum, is a learned behavior," CNN reported.

  • At the time, leading psychological research disputed that claim, which is rooted in homophobic sentiment.

  • Pence would later go on to sign a controversial "religious objections" bill into law as Indiana governor that critics said would permit discrimination against LGBTQ people.

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A White House spokesperson announced on Twitter that, thanks to a meeting with Ireland's prime minister and his partner, Vice President Mike Pence could no longer be called "anti-gay."

But Pence has infamously supported anti-gay legislation and even espoused anti-gay views out loud. In the early 90s, before Pence had ever been elected to office, he spoke out against efforts to ban discrimination against gay people, CNN reports.

Back when Pence ended his unsuccessful run for Congress in Indiana and went on to host conservative radio shows in the state throughout the 90s, he argued that gay people choose to be gay, unlike black people.

"I do not choose whether I am a black American," Pence said, according to CNN, which found the quote in local newspapers. "The great vast majority of the psychological community says homosexuality at a very minimum is a choice by the individual, and at the maximum, is a learned behavior."

U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence and his wife Karen Pence pose for a photo with Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar and his partner Dr.Matt Barrett at Farmleigh House in Dublin, Ireland September 3, 2019.

REUTERS/Lorraine O'Sullivan

Pence's past claim that being gay is a choice or learned behavior contradicted psychological research that existed at the time

When Pence made his comments in the 90s, the American Psychological Association and other mental health groups had already established findings that contradict his claims.

Starting in 1973, homosexuality was no longer considered a mental disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual used by most psychiatrists.

Starting in 1988, the APA labeled discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation irrational and officially opposed exclusion and dismissal from the armed forces based on sexual orientation in 1990.

Throughout the 90s, the APA went on to advise against discrimination in immigration and naturalization processes based on sexual orientation, along with encouraging members to prevent and respond to incidents of bias against gay people. By 2000, the APA formally opposed conversion therapy.

Pence's visit to Ireland was tense, Irish newspapers pointed out, given his support of Brexit, which is unpopular in the region. His anti-gay position didn't seem to help either, as multiple reports recalled that while serving as governor of Indiana, Pence signed a controversial bill into law that opponents said enabled discrimination against LGBTQ people on the basis of religious freedom.

Read more: 'He shat on the new carpet': Mike Pence accused of humiliating and betraying hosts during his visit to Ireland

The vice president has also been opposed to same-sex marriage, same-sex civil unions, and LGBTQ military service.

Despite his record on LGBTQ issues, special assistant to the president and deputy press secretary Judd Deere tweeted that, because the vice president and Second Lady Karen Pence met with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and his partner Dr. Matthew Barrett for lunch in Ireland, that meant Pence could no longer be called "anti-gay."

The White House didn't immediately respond to Business Insider's request for comment.

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