• Politics

Joe Biden Pushes New LGBT Protections, Calls 2016 GOP Candidates ‘Homophobes’

4 minute read

Vice President Joe Biden urged gay-rights activists on Saturday evening to continue their fight for equality, lending the White House’s backing for a comprehensive anti-discrimination bill that faces an uphill, if not impossible, climb through this Congress.

At an appearance before 3,000 supporters of the Human Rights Campaign, the Vice President said most Americans already support proposed protections against housing, employment and services contained in The Equality Act. Despite the high-profile Supreme Court victory this summer that granted marriage rights to same-sex couples, Biden said, LGBT Americans still face discrimination, and the proposal could go a long way to remedy that.

“You left the Supreme Court absolutely no choice, no choice whatsoever—and I mean that,” Biden said. “The very fact that we finally recognize that love is not a political matter, it’s a basic human right, the fact that we recognize that is because of you. … You’ve changed the world in which my grandchildren will grow up.”

Biden cast opponents of gay rights as a small—but powerful—minority in the United States. Despite popular provisions included in the proposed Equality Act, it seems unlikely the Republican-led House or Senate would allow it to come to a vote this session. The Vice President urged gay rights activists and their allies to keep pushing, offering the first White House nod to the measure.

“The American people are already with you. Look at the numbers,” Biden said, pointing to poll numbers that capture the public’s rapidly changing views on gay rights. “Oh, there are homophobes still left. Most of them are running for President, I think.”

The jab at Republican White House hopefuls was his only hint at his own 2016 plans.

For weeks, Biden’s advisers have been putting together the building blocks of a campaign should he decide he has the emotional wherewithal for a White House bid. His top advisers have been phoning potential hires for a campaign staff, and Biden continues to phone lawmakers in early nominating states such as Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. To be sure, Biden is starting a campaign at a disadvantage to Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton, who has been assembling a political machine for months.

Biden, however, is continuing to tell his advisers that he could still get a campaign together. The 72-year-old grandfather just isn’t sure if he wants to do it. Biden has twice before sought the nomination, and he has proved to be an uneven campaigner. Running for President is tough work even when the candidate is at his best, and even Biden’s biggest boosters say he is far from it.

Biden is still mourning his son Beau, the former Attorney General of Delaware who lost his fight with brain cancer this spring. The younger Biden urged his father to run for President, and that desire weighs heavy on the elder Biden.

Biden seems to be hinting that his advocacy would not end when he and President Barack Obama leave office in early 2017, even if it isn’t through his office. Dropping away from the issue at hand—gay rights—he turned to the issue of gun violence and the campus shooting last week in Oregon.

“The freedom to be free of violence, whether that be at the hand of another person or the bullet of a gun. This week, we were shocked once again by senseless violence,” Biden said, nodding to efforts he proposed to after the school shooting in Newtown, Conn. “I will to continue to speak until it is passed.”

More Must-Reads From TIME

Write to Philip Elliott at philip.elliott@time.com