Ireland’s out gay prime minister didn’t waste any time getting right to the gay stuff when he met Vice President Mike Pence at the Naval Observatory last week.
Prime Minister Leo Varadkar brought his partner, Matthew Barrett, along with him on his trip to the US, where he used his visit with Pence to convey a clear message of inclusivity to a man who has spent much his political life fighting against LGBTQ rights.
“I lived in a country where if I’d tried to be myself at the time, it would have ended up breaking laws,” Varadkar said during his speech at a St. Patrick’s Day breakfast with the vice president on March 14. “But today, that is all changed. I stand here, leader of my country, flawed and human, but judged by my political actions, and not by my sexual orientation, my skin tone, gender or religious beliefs. I do not believe my country is the only one in the world where my story is possible. It is found in every country where freedom and liberty are cherished. We are, after all, all God’s children.”
Pence steered clear of directly referring to any LGBTQ issues when he spoke, but said he was honored to host Varadkar and Barrett.
Varadkar’s comments follow Pence’s history of embracing homophobia at every step of his political journey. Pence voted against the Employment Non-Discrimination Act during his time in Congress, has strongly supported the ban on LGBTQ folks from the military, and as governor of Indiana, signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was geared toward extending religious exemptions in state law. That bill was nearly universally viewed as a pathway for businesses and people to discriminate against LGBTQ folks under the guise of constitutionally protected religious beliefs.
Pence also said on his 2000 congressional campaign website that funds tied to the Ryan White Care Act — a federally funded HIV/ AIDS program — should be directed “toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior,” a clear reference to conversion therapy.
Following the visit, Varadkar made it clear to Irish media that he was aware of Pence’s positions on LGBTQ rights, telling The Journal of Ireland that he was not nervous about his speech but admitted that he “gave consideration about what I was going to say and how I was going to say it.”
“Ultimately Matthew and I were guests at his home, so I wanted to make sure what I had to say was respectful,” Varadkar said. “And I hope it came across that way.”
He added, “But at the same time expressing what are now Ireland’s values, that everyone is equal before the law regardless of their religion, or lack thereof, their gender, the color of their skin, or who they love.”
Varadkar said he extended an invitation to Pence and his wife, Karen — who works at a school that bars gay students and did not attend the March 14 breakfast — to visit Ireland.