Ted Cruz vs. Ellen Page: Argument Over Religious Freedom and LGBTQ Rights
Republican Presidential hopeful Ted Cruz got into a back-and-forth with actress and LGBTQ rights advocate Ellen Page on Friday. She confronted him at a barbecue he was hosting before a religious freedom rally in Iowa as part of a show she’s working on with Vice. Page was clad in a hat and oversize sunglasses, so Cruz clearly didn’t recognize her as the actress who starred in hits like “Inception” and “Juno.” Watch the lively exchange below:
Page, who came out last year, particularly focused her questioning on protections for LGBTQ people, bringing up issues like the fact that gay and trans employees are legally able to fired by their employers in many places. However throughout the exchange, Cruz showed a dogged unwillingness to acknowledge that protections for LGBTQ individuals could be improved, instead focusing almost unilaterally on the concept that Christians are being persecuted in the United States for their faith. He stated: “Well, what we’re seeing right now, we’re seeing Bible-believing Christians being persecuted for living according to their faith.”
While Cruz probably isn’t used to being confronted by popular young actresses, the answers he gave are consistent with a point of view that he (and some of the other candidates) have been sticking to resolutely–the idea that the conversation about LGBTQ protections should take a backseat to one about religious persecution of Christians. Now that acceptance of LGBTQ Americans has reached an all-time high, and gay marriage has been legalized via Supreme Court decision, arguments about “religious freedom” appear to be the new hot topic that only narrowly disguises the disgust Cruz has for LGBTQ protections.
But it’s a ridiculous argument. No one is arguing that Christians should be “persecuted” for not supporting LGBTQ rights–unless you define persecution as ridiculously narrowly as Cruz does. At the “Rally for Religious Liberty” he hosted after the barbecue where had the run in with Page, he featured various citizens who had supposedly had their religious liberties trampled upon by the government. These included couples who were fined amounts like $1000 or $5000 for not serving gay couples at their businesses. There’s also the case of a fire chief who was forced to step down in Georgia after he self-published a book calling homosexuality a “sexual perversion,” although the mayor pointed out that it was his overall conduct–including the fact that he didn’t have the permission to publish the book–that led to his termination.
But none of those things are strictly persecution. Persecution is defined by the International Criminal Court as “the intentional and severe deprivation of fundamental rights contrary to international law by reason of the identity of the group or collectivity.” While fines and firings are unfortunate, they don’t appear to fit the definition of Christian persecution.
As Rick Unger wrote in a Forbes op-ed:
In truth, even the most ardent evangelical should be able to summon the logic required to realize that using the Constitution to resolve disagreements and conflicts between Christian beliefs and the belief structures of their fellow Americans who think differently is hardly an act of persecution. Rather, these efforts are simply an act of fealty to our founding document and the men who wrote it—most of who were, themselves, Christian believers.
Yet religious persecution remains what Cruz is so worried about, to the point that he couldn’t even have a sensical argument with Page without bringing it up. We should strive to ensure that religious liberty is always protected; regardless of whether you think it’s currently under attack right now. But it’s not a mutually exclusive conversation. Other aspects of the debate over LGBTQ rights that Cruz brought up to Page, such as ISIS’s execution of gay people, deserve recognition. But until Cruz recognizes that we can talk about religious freedom and LGBTQ rights without sacrificing either, there’s going to be a lot more awkward barbecues.