2020 Election
By Katie Reilly
April 9, 2019

On Sunday, Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg — the mayor of South, Bend, Indiana, who would become the first openly gay President if elected — criticized Vice President Mike Pence for his anti-gay rights policies.

“If me being gay was a choice, it was a choice that was made far, far above my pay grade,” Buttigieg said, speaking at an event for the LGBTQ Victory Fund, which works to elect openly LGBTQ people. “And that’s the thing I wish the Mike Pences of the world would understand — that if you’ve got a problem with who I am, your problem is not with me. Your quarrel, sir, is with my creator.”

As governor of Indiana, Pence, a conservative Christian, signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which critics said allowed businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ people on religious grounds. Pence also has a track record of speaking out against policies that would protect the rights of LGBTQ people. And his wife, Karen Pence, accepted a part-time teaching job this year at a private Christian school that bars LGBTQ students and employees.

Buttigieg came out as gay in an essay for the South Bend Tribune while campaigning for re-election in 2015, when Pence was governor of his state. Buttigieg said Sunday that he had worried about how his community would respond.

“Would people in our socially conservative community embrace me and continue to judge me based on the job that I did for them?” he said. “Or would they turn on me, unable to look past the fact that who I was was something they had been brought up to reject?”

Buttigieg, who was re-elected in 2015 by a wide margin, also discussed his sexual identity, his marriage and his faith on Sunday.

“People talk about things like marriage equality as a moral issue, and it is certainly a moral issue as far as I’m concerned,” Buttigieg said. “It’s a moral issue because being married to Chasten has made me a better human being — because it has made me more compassionate, more understanding, more self-aware and more decent. My marriage to Chasten has made me a better man and yes, Mr. Vice President, it has moved me closer to God.”

If elected, Buttigieg would become the first openly gay president and, at age 37, would also be the youngest.

Write to Katie Reilly at Katie.Reilly@time.com.

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