Cory Booker asks Trump judicial nominee if she believes gay relationships are a 'sin'

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., asks CIA Director Mike Pompeo questions about his beliefs during a Senate Confirmation Hearing, April 12, 2018.
Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., asks CIA Director Mike Pompeo questions about his beliefs during a Senate Confirmation Hearing, April 12, 2018. | (Screenshot: NBC News)

Democrat 2020 presidential candidate and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker prodded a Trump judicial nominee Tuesday over her views on same-sex marriage and even asked if she thought gay relationships were a “sin.”

The 49-year-old Booker didn’t mince words during the confirmation hearing for judicial nominee Neomi Rao about his disapproval with the Trump administration's push to end Obama's practice of awarding contracts to employers and nonprofit organizations that have sexual orientation and gender identity anti-discrimination policies. The Obama-era policy likewise banned contracts from being awarded to companies that don't have LGBT policies. 

Booker asked Rao, who was nominated to fill the D.C. appellate court judgeship left vacant by the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh last year, whether she personally thinks gay relationships are “immoral.”

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Rao, who serves as the administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, pushed back, saying she didn’t think that line of questioning was relevant.

But Booker responded: “I think that [it is] relevant, your opinion if you think that African-American relationships are immoral, do you think gay relationships are immoral? Do you personally believe that gay relationships are immoral?”

After reluctantly responding that she did not think gay relationships were immoral, Booker followed up by asking if Rao thought gay relationships were a “sin.”

“Senator, my personal views on any of these subjects are things that I would put to one side and I would faithfully follow [the precedence of the Supreme Court],” Rao, the 45-year-old attorney, explained.

Booker responded: “So you are not willing to say here whether you believe it is sinful for two men to be married? You are not willing to comment on that?”

“My response is that these personal views are ones that I would put to one side, whatever my personal views are on this subject, I would faithfully follow the precedence of the Supreme Court,” Rao assured.

Booker’s line of questioning started when he asked Rao to elaborate on a 2008 piece she wrote in which she criticized the court’s ruling in Lawrence v. Texas, which invalidated state laws that criminalized same-sex relationships.

“You said that the court’s tradition ‘eschews older traditions in favor of an emerging awareness of the meaning and the scope of liberty,’” Booker said. “In your view, should the Supreme Court have been in the business of upholding older traditions, as you said, of laws that criminalize same-sex relationships?”

Rao reasoned that the comments were made in the course of an analysis about “dignity and constitutional law.”

“Of course, Lawrence is precedent of the Supreme Court, which I would faithfully follow,” she said.

Later on in his questioning, Booker asked Rao about a 2013 piece in which she criticized the Supreme Court’s ruling in the case of United States v. Windsor, which struck down the Defense of Marriage Act that defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

“You said the court had found ‘a novel constitutional right of two people’s freedom to marry to recognize same-sex marriages.’ And you said that the court’s decision amounted to a political choice, not a judicial choice,” Booker said. “What do you believe the Supreme Court’s decision to respect the status of a same-sex marriage, how is that a political choice and not a judicial one?”

“In that particular article, what I was saying is that in the case in Windsor did not recognize same-sex marriage as a right,” she explained. ”It only recognized the right to have your marriage recognized if the state provided such a marriage. Of course, that later step was taken in Obergefellbut Windsor, part of what I was explaining, was a rather empty right that was in that case.”

Booker wrapped up his line of questioning by asking Rao if she had ever had any LGBT law clerks.

“I have not been a judge so I don’t have any law clerks,” she said.

He followed up by asking if she had ever had an LGBT people on her staff.

“To be honest, I don’t know the sexual orientation of my staff,” she explained. “So I take people as they come irrespective of their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation. I treat people as individuals. Those are the values that I grew up with and those are the values I would confirm.”

Booker’s questions did not sit well with fellow senator and 2012 Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz of Texas. Later on in the hearing, Cruz voiced his disapproval.

“The Senate Judiciary Committee should not be a theater for mischaracterizing or twisting nominees' records or views, nor should it be an avenue for persecution,” Cruz asserted. “We've seen a growing pattern among Senate Democrats of hostility to religious faith. I have to say, I was deeply troubled a few minutes ago to hear questioning of a nominee, asking your personal views on what is sinful.”

Cruz added that the U.S. Constitution states that there is to be no religious test for public office.

“We have also seen Senate Democrats attack what they have characterized as religious dogma, we've seen Senate Democrats attack nominees for their own personal views on salvation,” he added.

“I don't believe this is a theological court of inquisition. I think the proper avenue of investigation is a nominee's record. So let's look at your record, which is what this committee should be looking at, not our own personal religious views, or your religious views, whatever they may be.”

Booker and fellow Senate Democrat Kamala Harris of California, who is also running for president in 2020, previously questioned Kavanaugh’s views about the legal precedent of same-sex marriage last year during his confirmation hearings.

Last April, Booker asked Sec. of State Mike Pompeo during his confirmation hearing whether he thinks being gay is a "perversion." 

More recently, Senate Democrats Kamala Harris and Mazie K. Hirono of Hawaii questioned Trump judicial nominee Brian C. Buescher about his membership in the Catholic fraternal organization Knights of Columbus.

Both senators oppose the organization, which spends millions of dollars every year in humanitarian aid, because of the organization’s views on marriage and abortion.

Specifically, Hirono brought up the organization’s support for an initiative over 10 years ago in California to ban same-sex marriage.

In 2017, liberal Sen. Bernie Sanders questioned a Trump nominee on his views of salvation. Sanders pointed to an old blog post the nominee wrote in which he argued that Muslims "stand condemned" for not believing in Jesus Christ.

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