Republican Senate hopeful Tom Leppert again came under fire today for his decision to appear in two gay Pride parades while mayor of Dallas.
Leppert was attacked by fellow candidates Ted Cruz, Craig James and Lela Pittenger during a debate luncheon hosted by the right-wing Eagle Forum at the Dallas Country Club.
The exchange featured some strong anti-gay language, with James saying he believes homosexuality is a choice and Pittenger comparing the Pride parade to an orgy. It began when the debate moderator, John C. Goodman, president and CEO of the National Center for Policy Analysis, noted that Cruz had attacked Leppert for appearing at gay Pride during a recent candidate forum in Fort Worth.
Goodman then asked Cruz, “Do you have something against gay people?”
“I have something against gay marriage,” Cruz responded. “I don’t support gay marriage. I think there is an onslaught right now in this country to tear down traditional marriage, and I don’t think it’s right.”
Cruz, former solicitor general for the state of Texas, talked about how he helped Attorney General Greg Abbott block a gay couple from obtaining a dissolution of their Vermont civil union in Beaumont several years ago. Goodman then asked Cruz whether he was suggesting that Leppert supports same-sex marriage.
“When the mayor of a city chooses twice to march in a parade celebrating gay Pride, that’s a statement, and it’s not a statement I agree with,” Cruz said.
Leppert then responded by referring to himself in the third person: “The mayor is against gay marriage. He believes that marriage should be defined as one man and one woman.
“My job as mayor was to represent everybody in this city,” Leppert said. “I visited with groups that didn’t agree with what I said. I talked to groups that I didn’t agree with what they said, but it was my obligation to represent everybody. I engaged everybody, and I will continue to do that.”
When Cruz attacked Leppert for appearing at gay Pride last month, Leppert responded by comparing himself to Jesus. This time, although he took a similar approach, he stopped short of invoking the name.
“I will tell you my role as a Christian is to reach out and touch everybody,” Leppert said. “I wish I could have made stands only when I was in a courtroom, but I didn’t. I was criticized time and time again for showing my faith and being open with it, and standing pro-life. In fact, The Dallas Morning News criticized me for taking a position of pro-life. It was the right thing to do, I will continue to do it. But I did it when I put my neck on the line as a leader standing up for what exactly was right. I was pro-life unabashedly, and I said it.
“I am against gay marriage,” Leppert said. “I believe marriage should be defined as one man and one woman. It is very clear. But I had a responsibility to represent everybody, and everybody understood exactly where my faith was, and if there’s any question you can see pastors like Robert Jeffress and David Dykes and those folks, who don’t understand me from the business standpoint, but they sure understand who I am, and they have stood unabashedly and endorsed me for this office.”
Goodman then noted that gay couples are denied more than 1,000 rights because the federal government doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage. Goodman asked the candidates whether, in lieu of legalizing same-sex marriage, the federal government should merely grant gay couples those benefits by recognizing civil unions or other partnerships.
That’s when James, a former NFL player and ESPN football analyst, chimed in.
“I think right now this country, our moral fiber is sliding down a slope that is gonna be hard to stop, if we don’t stand up with leaders who don’t go ride in gay parades,” James said. “I can assure you I will never ride in a gay parade. And I hear what you’re saying, Tom, but leaders, our kids out there and people need to see examples. Now, I’m a guy that believes in a man and a woman being the greatest governance occurring in a home at night between a husband and a wife, Adam and Eve and what the Bible says. And the backbone, and I know you’re a Christian, I’m not doubting that Tom, but man you’ve got to stand up, if you are chosen as our senator, and be a leader, and not do things like that. We need examples for our kids.”
Goodman then asked James and the other candidates whether they think being gay is a choice.
“I think it’s a choice, I do,” James responded. “You have to make that choice, absolutely.… Same-sex marriage, if someone chooses to do that, then that’s them, and God’s going to judge each one of us in this room for our actions, but in that case right there, they’re going to have to answer to the lord for their actions. We should not give benefits to those civil unions. It should not occur. We have to stay strong on this. This is important, man. I tell you what, we have a fiscal issue in this county, but we also have a moral issue in this country, and as Christians we better stand up.”
Pittenger, a longshot candidate, was next to weigh in.
“I think what you see on the stage pretty much explains why we have so many denominations in the church,” Pittenger said. “Everyone kind of has a different perspective on what they think Christ would have done and how he would have acted. Now, I respect what Tom was saying, that he felt like he was to engage the entire community. I personally disagree with his approach, just because if there was a Republican club that was openly homosexual, and they wanted to talk issues, any number of issues, I’m happy to go visit with them about the issues. But I’m not going to walk down the street with them celebrating what I believe to be a sin. But I respect Tom’s approach. Christ reached people in many different ways. The Pharisees hated him because he ate dinner with sinners. And Jesus said, ‘The doctor doesn’t come for the well, he comes for the sick.’ And we just have to, each one of us has to stand before God, and make sure our heart is right with God about how we engage those who are living in sinful ways. Now while he ate dinner with them, I don’t believe he marched along with them as they were going down to have an orgy or have any sort of drunken revelries. But they came in his space, and he engaged with them there. This is about different perspectives on how we engage people we believe are lost, and you just have to decide which one’s better.”
Finally, Leppert was given an opportunity to respond to James and Pittenger.
“I’ve addressed the issue,” Leppert said, and the debate moved on to the topic of illegal immigration.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, whom polls show is the frontrunner in the GOP Senate primary, didn’t attend today’s forum.
Watch video of the exchange below. (Note that the video was taken from a projection screen at the back of the room.)