In 1993, Minnesota became the first state in the nation to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, ensuring that nobody could be fired from their job simply for being LGBT. But Pawlenty, who voted for the bill in 1993, now says that because of his evangelical Christian background, that law should be changed and Minnesotans should be explicitly allowed to discriminate against transgender people.
Pawlenty has consistently vetoed any legislation that benefits LGBT people including allowing same-sex partners to sue for wrongful death, beefing up anti-bullying policies in schools and allowing local governments to offer domestic partner benefits. In an interview with Newsweek, Pawlenty — who is widely seen as a presidential candidate for 2012 — said that he wants Minnesota to change the law to protect the children.
Let me ask you about social issues your party has been dealing with. In her book, Palin claims that McCain’s handlers wanted her to be silent about her belief in creationism. How would you describe your view?
I can tell you how we handle it in Minnesota. We leave it to the local school districts. We don’t mandate a curriculum or an approach. We allow for something called “intelligent design” to be discussed as a comparative theory. It doesn’t have to be in science class.
Where are you personally?
Well, you know I’m an evangelical Christian. I believe that God created everything and that he is who he says he was. The Bible says that he created man and woman; it doesn’t say that he created an amoeba and then they evolved into man and woman. But there are a lot of theologians who say that the ideas of evolution and creationism aren’t necessarily inconsistent; that he could have “created” human beings over time.
I know you are opposed to gay marriage, but what about medical benefits for same-sex couples?
I have not supported that.
My general view on all of this is that marriage is to be defined as being a union of a man and a woman. Marriage should be elevated in our society at a special level. I don’t think all domestic relationships are the equivalent of traditional marriage. Early on we decided as a country and as a state that there was value in a man and a woman being married in terms of impact on children and the like, and we want to encourage that.
To borrow a phrase, have your views evolved over time?
In 1993 I voted for a bill prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation in public accommodation, housing, and employment. That was 16 years ago.
Yes, gay-rights activists regarded you as a pretty cool guy at the time.
We overbaked that statute, for a couple of reasons. If I had to do it over again I would have changed some things.
That statute is not worded the way it should be. I said I regretted the vote later because it included things like cross-dressing, and a variety of other people involved in behaviors that weren’t based on sexual orientation, just a preference for the way they dressed and behaved. So it was overly broad. So if you are a third-grade teacher and you are a man and you show up on Monday as Mr. Johnson and you show up on Tuesday as Mrs. Johnson, that is a little confusing to the kids. So I don’t like that.
Has the law been changed?
No. It should be, though.
So you want to protect kids against cross-dressing elementary-school teachers. Do you have any in Minnesota?
Probably. We’ve had a few instances, not exactly like that, but similar.