Amy Coney Barrett said during her confirmation hearing Tuesday that she wasn’t aware that the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian group that runs a program where she’s repeatedly lectured, is vehemently opposed to LGBTQ people.
“Were you aware of the ADF’s decades-long efforts to recriminalize homosexuality?” Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy asked Barrett, President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court pick, during questioning in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“I am not aware of those efforts, no,” Barrett replied.
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) defines Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), one of the most powerful conservative legal advocacy groups in the United States, as an anti-LGBTQ hate group. In 2003, the ADF filed a brief in the Supreme Court case Lawrence v. Texas that supported keeping sodomy criminalized. Over the years, the group has also defended the state-sanctioned sterilization of trans people in other countries, called “the homosexual legal agenda” a threat to religious freedom and an attack on mortality, according to the SPLC. Its associated officials have linked homosexuality to pedophilia, the SPLC reported.
The ADF’s former president also once compared a media campaign by LGTBQ activists to "a war of propaganda, just as Hitler did so masterfully in Nazi Germany,” as the SPLC quoted him.
Since 2011, Barrett has spoken five times to students at ADF’s Blackstone Legal Fellowship Program, according to disclosure forms that Barrett filed to the Senate Judiciary Committee. She spoke to the program most recently in 2016, before she was confirmed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit in 2017.
“Whether you believe that being gay is right or wrong is irrelevant to me, but my concern is when you work with an organization working to criminalize people for loving a person that they are in love with, so that’s what worried me,” Leahy said.
“My experience with the Blackstone program at which I spoke was a wonderful one,” Barrett replied. “It gathers the best and brightest Christian law students from around the country, and as you said, I gave a one-hour lecture on originalism. I didn’t read all of the material that the students were given to read.”
“Nothing about any of my interactions with anyone involved in the Blackstone program were ever indicative of any kind of discrimination on the basis of anything,” she added.
Later on in the day, during questioning from Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley, Barrett said, “I certainly didn’t think there was anything wrong with going to speak with a group of Christian law students about my expertise.”
When Leahy asked Barrett if she supported same-sex marriage, she demurred, pointing out that prospective justices frequently try to avoid commenting on future cases that could come before them.
“It’s precedent of the Supreme Court that gives same-sex couples the right to marry,” she said.
Earlier in the day, California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein asked Barrett, “Do you agree with this particular point of Justice Scalia's view that the U.S. Constitution does not afford gay people the fundamental right to marry?”
Although Barrett has said that she shares the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s judicial philosophy of originalism, she stressed that she would not simply regurgitate his views. But she didn’t give a specific answer.
"I’m sorry to not be able to embrace or disavow Justice Scalia's position, but I really can't do that on any point of law,” Barrett said. She then added that she has never discriminated on the basis of “sexual preference.”
That phrase set off alarm bells among LGBTQ rights supporters, who said that that language—unlike the more commonly used term “sexual orientation”—implies that someone’s sexuality is a preference that can change.
"Sexual preference is an offensive and outdated term. It is used by anti-LGBTQ activists to suggest that sexual orientation is a choice. It is not,” Sen. Mazie Hirono, a Hawaii Democrat, told Barrett several hours later at the hearing. Hirono added that she didn’t think Barrett’s use of that term was an accident.
"I certainly didn't mean, and would never mean, to use a term that would cause any offense in the LGBTQ community, so if I did, I greatly apologize for that,” Barrett said.
Barrett has previously been questioned about her ties to ADF, during her 2017 confirmation hearing for her 7th Circuit seat. At the time, Barrett also pleaded ignorance about the ADF’s opposition to LGBTQ rights.
“I’m invited to give a lot of talks as a law professor, and it is not—I don’t know what all of ADF’s policy positions are,” Barrett told then-Minnesota Democratic Sen. Al Franken. “It has never been my practice to investigate all of the policy positions of a group that invites me to speak.”