Human Rights Campaign’s Chad Griffin on What Brett Kavanaugh Means for Same-Sex Marriage

Brett Kavanaugh

WASHINGTON — Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh on Wednesday will face the Q&A round of his confirmation hearings, where he will be pressed on issues like abortion, healthcare and LGBTQ equality.

During the volatile first day, Senate Democrats signaled that they would seek specific answers to questions about his judicial opinions, while Republicans argued that in past confirmation battles, general judicial philosophy suffices.

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, recently chatted with Variety about what his nomination means for same-sex marriage, culminating in the landmark Obergefell vs. Hodges decision in 2015, which struck down state bans on same-sex unions. He also talked about other cases coming before the court that will have a huge impact on LGBTQ equality and rights concerns. Griffin makes it clear that he considers Kavanaugh’s nomination a big reason to worry.

What has Brett Kavanaugh said about same-sex marriage?

What is clear with Brett Kavanaugh, and quite frankly any of Trump’s appointments, you have to have your starting point be who gave Donald Trump the list? The Federalist Society. They are against us on virtually every single issue and are supportive of many of the legal efforts to undermine our rights.
If you look at this president’s position, and you look at this president’s appointees, I worry that everything for our community is at risk. You look at Kavanaugh’s rulings and whether it is access to reproductive health care, or if it is the scope of the [Religious Freedom Restoration Act], the Affordable Care Act rulings. The goal here is to chip away at our rights. … It is utilizing a license to discriminate to deny full marriage equality. I think it was [Ruth Bader] Ginsburg who said it best. She called it ‘skim milk’ marriage. That is what our opponents have been trying to do for years, in some places they have succeeded. What that means for human beings and same-sex couples is that they could be in places where there is denial of adoption and foster care, or hospitals for instance.
I grew up in a town where there was one hospital. It was the Baptist hospital. So there are many places across our country where religious institutions control hospitals and medical providers and are outsourced for adoption agency care and so forth. That is what I am particularly concerned about for our community, but it doesn’t just stop at marriage. If you look at the Affordable Care Act, pre-existing conditions. HIV and AIDS has many times throughout history has been considered a pre-existing condition. The ACA stopped that. Transgender people have been denied coverage because they have been considered a pre-existing condition. That is outrageous, and it is life-impacting.
What I fear more than that is all that we don’t know, is all that they are hiding. He was in the White House. He called his time in the Bush White House his most formative experience that has informed his career and his position since then. If you look at his time in the White House, it is when the administration was fighting the [Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr.] Hate Crimes Act. It was when the administration was pushing a federal marriage amendment to the United States Constitution. It is when the administration was pushing marriage bans in states and succeeding in many cases across the country. During that time there were efforts looking at federal employees that were LGBT. Across the board there are fears about Brett Kavanaugh’s judicial record and there is incredible fear about what he and this White House is hiding in terms of his actual record and his political and legal views.
Is there another case that could come to the Supreme Court that would create the possibility of overturning Obergefell vs. Hodges outright?
There are already cases across the country where our opponents are working to undermine the Obergefell decision and the recognition of that decision. There are also cases rising to the court that relate to existing federal law and the question of, if current federal law protects people on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. These are all things that are headed to this court, and sooner rather than later. There is significant reason to believe just what we know from his published decisions that he is on the wrong side of all of these issues, and would likely be a vote against us on all of these issues as these cases rise. The trans military ban is headed to the court [right now], and he is being appointed by a president who via tweet banned brave transgender troops from serving in the military at a time when many of them were in battlefields in war zones.
What about the conservatives you worked with on the Prop 8 case? How do they view Judge Kavanaugh?
You would have to ask them. I don’t know who supports Kavanaugh in those circles.
It has been a long time in my career that I have seen such a united front of organizations and individuals coming together to oppose this president’s hateful nominations across the board, but in particular this nomination. You have to be careful because there will be campaigns where someone may be friends with this nominee, or someone may say on the record, ‘I knew him when.’ It is kind of like saying I once had a gay friend. That means nothing when it comes to the law. That means nothing. You certainly saw it on the president’s last nominee to the Supreme Court, you saw some people saying that. I have not seen it this time.
What are you hoping that senators will ask at the hearings? 
I believe that every senator, Democrat and Republican, needs to do their job. They need to know the record of this person seated before them, because the American public is going to have to live with this person for decades. This person will outlive professionally many of the United States senators, It is their duty to demand full and complete disclosure. We want to know what he has done for the rest of his career, when he was at the center of partisan politics.
What if Kavanaugh says that the Obergefell decision is ‘settled law.’ Same-sex marriage is settled law.
We have seen this time and time again with nominees of this president in particular. They have tried to get away without actually answering the question about their record — and without actually disclosing what their true opinions are — by simply sticking to a line that is not an answer, that is something is ‘settled law.’ They should not be allowed to hide behind that.
What other cases are being keyed up for the Supreme Court that concern you?
In addition to the military cases, there are the ACA cases that have direct impact on our community and other marginalized communities, particularly as it relates to pre-existing conditions. The other category that I think is critical are the so-called religious refusal cases, right to discriminate cases, that our opponents attempt to describe through the guise of religion, but it is nothing more than we have seen through some of the other dark times in our country’s past where religion has been used and abused to justify discriminating against people based on their race, gender, sexual orientation or gender identity. There are some of those cases that are percolating toward this court. Then there are the cases that are interpreting existing law in protecting people on the basis of gender identity.
What makes you think the Republicans won’t, in the end, have to votes to confirm Kavanaugh? It certainly seems like they will.
I will say that I have never seen folks all around this country more engaged and more energized in standing up to this president’s hateful agenda, and demanding from elected officials that they do the same. That is why I have optimism. Yes, with this president’s party having a majority in the Senate, is it difficult? Yes. But that is why we are we fighting these fights. We have been fighting difficult battles every day since this president has been in office.