Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) attempted to convince pastors that economic issues are moral issues at the Greater Freedom Rally at a church in Spartanburg, South Carolina yesterday, imploring them to help conservatives retake Congress in November.
In addition to reiterating anti-choice talking points on abortion and backing "traditional marriage," according to the Spartanburg Herald-Journal, the senator went further and "said if someone is openly homosexual, they shouldn't be teaching in the classroom and he holds the same position on an unmarried woman who's sleeping with her boyfriend -- she shouldn't be in the classroom."
Controversy over DeMint's position on this issue first arose in 2004 during a Senate debate, when he was asked whether he agreed with the state party's platform that said openly gay teachers should be barred from teaching public school. DeMint said he agreed with that position because government shouldn't be endorsing certain behaviors.
After significant criticism from LGBT groups, including the Log Cabin Republicans, DeMint apologized for saying "something as a dad that I just shouldn't have said."
"(When I said those things,) no one came to my defense," DeMint said on Friday in Spartanburg. "But everyone would come to me and whisper that I shouldn't back down. They don't want government purging their rights and their freedom to religion."
Wesley M. Denton, communications director for DeMint, told The Huffington Post that the senator was "making a point about how the media attacks people for holding a moral opinion." "Senator DeMint believes that hiring decisions at local schools are a local school board issue, not a federal issue," he added.
In October 2004, DeMint went on NBC's "Meet the Press" and also said that teacher hiring should be left to local authorities, although he refused to disavow his "personal beliefs":
MR. RUSSERT: You also, when asked about your comments about gay teachers, said this: "I would have given the same answer when asked if a single woman, who was pregnant and living with her boyfriend, should be hired to teach my third-grade children." Do you also still believe that, that a single mom should not be a teacher in South Carolina schools?
REP. DeMINT: I believe that's a local school board issue. And, Tim, I was answering as a dad who's put lots of children in the hands of teachers and I answered with my heart. And I should just say, again, I apologize that distracted from the real debate.
MR. RUSSERT: But you apologize for distracting but are you apologizing to gay teachers or to single mom teachers?
REP. DeMINT: No. I'm apologizing for talking about a local school board issue when the voters want us to talk about how we're going to make them safer, win the war on terror, how we're going to create jobs, how we're going to fix our health-care system. And these are things I've worked on in the Congress and that's what I plan to do in the Senate. [...]
MR. RUSSERT: But you're making judgments about gay people or about single moms and, in effect, disqualifying them. Are you certain that you never had a gay teacher?
REP. DeMINT: Listen, I have my personal beliefs, Tim, but I honestly believe that the teachers should be hired by local school districts. They should be making the decisions on who should be in the classroom.
MR. RUSSERT: But don't the voters have a right to know about whether or not you still stand by comments you made in the campaign? Do you stand by your comments?
REP. DeMINT: I apologized for answering a local school board question.
MR. RUSSERT: No, you're apologizing for the distraction, but it's a simple question. Do you believe that gays should be able to teach in South Carolina schools?
REP. DeMINT: Well, Tim...
MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe that single moms should be able to teach?
REP. DeMINT: It's a very simple answer. I think the local school board should make that issue, not Senate can--I mean, make that decision.
MR. RUSSERT: But you didn't think that a month ago when you answered the question.
REP. DeMINT: And I apologize for that, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: For answering the question?
REP. DeMINT: Yeah, for distracting from the real thing.
MR. RUSSERT: But not for the substance of your comments.
REP. DeMINT: Tim, who hires teachers should be decided by local school boards.
Last year, DeMint again made headlines on LGBT issues when he told Bloomberg's Al Hunt that he would find having an openly gay president "bothersome" because he considers homosexuality "immoral."
DeMint's power in the conservative movement has been increasing in the 2010 election, with some dubbing him a "kingmaker" for backing many Tea Party candidates who went on to beat their favored establishment-backed opponents. While some Republicans have argued that social issues should be set aside in order to focus on the economy, it's clear from his speech on Friday that DeMint believes they are central to the party's economic message.