ST. PETERSBURG — Pete Buttigieg, a top spokesman for the Democratic presidential campaign of Joe Biden, brought a message of inclusiveness to a Pride rally in St. Petersburg on Wednesday, but warned that the new, conservative-dominated U.S. Supreme Court could threaten advances in equal rights.
Himself in a same-sex marriage, Buttigieg told the crowd such unions “exist only by the grace of a single vote” on the court.
“And now we have seen someone added to that Supreme Court, against the objections of the American people, appointed by a president who lost the popular vote, confirmed by senators who represent a minority of Americans” — referring to newly confirmed Justice Amy Coney Barrett.
In an interview with the Tampa Bay Times afterward, Buttigieg said he was worried about signals from conservative justices “that they seem to want to put the marriage equality decision back on the table.”
He was partly referencing a recent challenge by Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito to the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision, a 5-4 decision legalizing equal marriage rights. Two of the five votes, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Anthony Kennedy, have been replaced by Barrett and Brett Kavanaugh.
Thomas and Alito agreed with a decision not to hear a case by a Kentucky official who refused to issue a same-sex marriage license. But they wrote in a separate opinion that the Obergefell decision involved “cavalier treatment of religion” and created “a novel constitutional right over the religious liberty interests explicitly protected in the First Amendment.”
Buttigieg said he fears “a rear-guard action to claw back rights that were hard-won, and I’m worried about the idea that you can steamroll the will of the American people with this new form of judicial activism from the right.”
But Buttigieg, considered a top candidate for a high-level administration post if Biden wins, was non-committal on expanding the court or adding term limits for justices.
He said only that he favored a plan by Biden to create a bipartisan commission to consider possible Supreme Court reform.
In his 15-minute speech to a few hundred in Williams Park downtown, Buttigieg blasted Trump as a divisive, and said Biden would work to unite, not polarize, Americans.
“Wouldn’t it be nice to have a president where you turn on the TV and see your president and your blood pressure actually goes down a little bit instead of up?” he said.
Two or three hecklers appeared in the crowd, a woman carrying a sign calling abortion rights a “Democratic evil” and a man shouting epithets about “antifa” and shouting, “I’m gay and I support Donald Trump.”
Buttigieg responded, asking him, “Are you afraid to hear what I have to say?” and then, “Do you denounce white supremacy?”
When the man said yes, Buttigieg replied, “Good, then we agree on something. See if you can get your president to do the same.”
Buttigieg easily won the encounter with the help of a loud PA system.
Buttigieg, 38, former mayor of South Bend, Ind. and a political moderate, was the first openly gay, serious contender for a major party presidential nomination.
A Harvard and Oxford University graduate and Rhodes scholar, he worked as a consultant for the global McKinsey & Company business management consulting firm before becoming elected mayor in 2012. He was also heavily involved in national politics, and once ran unsuccessfully for chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
Earlier this year, he had strong finishes in the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries, but dropped out after a bad loss in South Carolina.
Having criticized Biden’s leading opponent Bernie Sanders during the primary, Buttigieg quickly endorsed Biden, earning gratitude from Biden backers.
Sean Shaw of Tampa, former Democratic nominee for attorney general, called it “a selfless act,” saying Buttigieg could have continued his campaign, but instead helped unify the party by putting pressure on Biden’s remaining opponents to drop out.
Buttigieg has since become a prominent campaign surrogate, specializing in appearing on Biden’s behalf in the hostile territory of Fox News. Some of his Fox appearances, featuring tough punches in calm, articulate tones, have gone viral, delighting Democrats.
After the first debate, when Trump attacked Biden son Hunter Biden’s drug addiction, Buttigieg said on Fox, “The president attacked someone for having an addiction, while millions of Americans who know and love people who have battled an addiction saw in the eyes of Joe Biden someone who loves his son.”
Shaw and other early Buttigieg supporters including state Reps. Ben Diamond of St. Petersburg and Adam Hattersley of Riverview, and Democratic National Committee member Alan Clendenin, all said they hope or firmly expect him to play a key role in a possible Biden administration.
“I told him I will be working for him again in Iowa in the future,” said Shaw.
Diamond called him “obviously a rising star,” but noted that solid-red Indiana offers Buttigieg little chance at statewide office.
Mayor Rick Kriseman, attending the rally, called Buttigieg “too smart and too good a guy not to be going somewhere” in politics.
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