In April, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) was asked about anti-gay discrimination, which the right-wing senator dismissed as a relatively trivial concern. Cotton told CNN he thinks “it’s important that we have a sense of perspective about our priorities. In Iran they hang you for the crime of being gay.”
It was an odd argument. Not only does it compare the United States to a Middle Eastern theocracy on the issue of civil rights, but Cotton’s suggestion is that so long as gay people aren’t being executed, the LGBT community shouldn’t complain about public discrimination.
On the campaign trail yesterday, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) offered a similar message in his home state. The Washington Post reported:
…Texas’s junior U.S. senator – visiting Beaumont to meet privately with county officials and others – got in a light sparring round with reporters, mainly working on his attacks on Hillary Rodham Clinton and defending his views on same-sex marriage.“Is there something about the left – and I am going to put the media in this category – that is obsessed with sex?” Cruz asked after fielding multiple questions on gay rights. “ISIS is executing homosexuals – you want to talk about gay rights? This week was a very bad week for gay rights because the expansion of ISIS, the expansion of radical, theocratic, Islamic zealots that crucify Christians, that behead children and that murder homosexuals – that ought to be concerning you far more than asking six questions all on the same topic.”
The far-right senator then started complaining bitterly about msnbc, for reasons that weren’t entirely clear.
Let’s unwrap Cruz’s little tantrum, because I think this is important in the context of the 2016 race.
Whether the Texas Republican wants to acknowledge this or not, Cruz very deliberately chose to present himself as the candidate of social conservatives, including a campaign kickoff at an evangelical college started by a TV preacher who blamed 9/11 on Americans. Cruz saw an opening within the GOP field and is now trying to take advantage of it.
The context matters – those who base much of their platform on social conservatism shouldn’t whine when they get questions about marriage rights. Cruz is, after all, the one who’s prepared to push a constitutional amendment to prevent same-sex couples from getting married
Perhaps “the left” is less preoccupied with sex than the junior senator from Texas.
As for ISIS, Cruz, like Cotton last month, is relying on a comparison that’s tough to defend. Asked about his opposition to equal marriage rights, Cruz points to a gang of Middle Eastern terrorists?
The brutality of ISIS militants obviously matters as a national security and humanitarian issue, but to argue that this is where the debate over gay rights in the United States should begin and end is ridiculous, even by the low standards of Ted Cruz.