Fact-Check: Democratic group claims Gov. Pence, Rep. Coffman share 'same' opposition to gay rights

Coffman has supported bills defending gay rights
Posted at 4:03 PM, Jul 27, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-27 18:03:30-04

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said GOP vice presidential nominee Mike Pence and Colorado Republican Rep. Mike Coffman oppose gay rights.

A July 20 DCCC news release says that Coffman, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Pence make for an "extreme" ticket and Trump and Coffman "share many of the same dangerous ideas." It compares Coffman’s and Pence’s record on eight different issues, from the minimum wage to abortion.

The implication is that Pence and Coffman share the same positions, including on gay rights.

"Trump’s VP pick also makes perfect sense for Coffman, given that they take the same positions on a number of things like ... Coffman and Pence oppose equal rights for LGBT Americans," the release states.

PolitiFact dug into the claim that Pence and Coffman "take the same positions" in their opposition to equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans.

The DCCC release tries to back up its claim by saying when Pence was an Indiana congressman in 2007, he said the Employment Non-Discrimination Act -- a bill known as ENDA that sought to prohibit employment discrimination against gay people -- "wages war on freedom of religion in the workplace."

The release failed to mention that Coffman took a different approach; he co-sponsored a 2013 version of ENDA. In other words, Coffman supported legislation to prohibit workplace discrimination based on "sexual orientation or gender identity" that Pence opposed in 2007.

We asked about the omission, and a DCCC spokesman said "that was just for space" given that the release was running five-pages long.

The news release cited Coffman’s opposition to same-sex marriage, referring to Denver Post coverage of a 2014 election debate where he said, "Certainly I believe marriage is between a man and a woman. Ultimately it’s going to be up to the voters of Colorado to make that decision. I will respect as a member of Congress whatever decision that they make."

In a series of yes-or-no questions, Coffman answered "no" when asked, "Should Colorado recognize same-sex marriage?" He also replied "yes" when asked, "Do you support Colorado’s ban on same-sex marriage?"  

After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June 2015 that the Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex message, some Colorado Republican lawmakers condemned the decision. Coffman, however, said in a statement, "The world is changing, and while I’ve supported traditional marriage, the court has ruled a ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. It is time we move forward and focus on the big debates of our day — how to keep our country safe and get Americans back to work."

Coffman’s spokeswoman, Cinamon Watson, dismissed the DCCC attack as "a bald-faced lie," saying Coffman is "no Mike Pence" on gay rights. She directed us to praise of Coffman by an array of LGBT organizations and Democratic flip-flopping on gay marriage by President Barack Obama and presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

Supporting gay rights

Coffman does have a mixed record on support for LGBT rights, which some attribute to the 2011 redistricting of his 6th Congressional District, which shifted from staunchly conservative to a more diverse, middle-of-the-road swath of Denver suburbs.

Gay advocacy groups have lauded Coffman for taking certain stands. Examples include:

He was also the only Republican to co-sponsor the Freedom from Discrimination in Credit Act of 2015, which seeks to expand the Equal Credit Opportunity Act to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. In addition, he voted for the Peters’ Amendment, which prohibits discrimination in federal transportation and housing programs and passed the House with strong bipartisan support.  

Coffman’s support for LGBT rights contrasts with Mike Pence’s hard-line stand on social issues.

In April 2015, Coffman was one of eight Republicans who penned a letter to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights praising the agency's first-ever briefing dedicated to discrimination against LGBT Americans, The Hill reported. The letter came in the aftermath of the controversy over an Indiana religious freedom law signed by Pence, who later signed a revised measure facing business boycotts and a firestorm of criticism.

"(Coffman) is as not as extreme as Mike Pence, and I would say not many people are as extreme as Mike Pence," Austin Montoya, spokesman for One Colorado, told PolitiFact.

Opposing gay rights

Coffman has taken other positions, though, that advocates of gay rights don’t like.

Montoya cited Coffman’s votes against repealing the military’s "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" policy, and his support of the Defense of Marriage Act (before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the law that denied federal benefits to same-sex couples in 2013).

And while Coffman did co-sponsor the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which failed to become law, Montoya noted that Coffman has not co-sponsored the more expansive Equality Act, which would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include discrimination protection based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Our ruling

A DCCC news release said, "Coffman and Pence oppose equal rights for LGBT Americans." The release stated that Coffman and Pence "take the same positions on a number of things," including on gay rights.

DCCC and other critics have a point in saying Coffman opposed same-sex marriage, repealing the military’s "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" policy and he supported the Defense of Marriage Act.   

But he has backed legislation to protect gay Americans from discrimination in the workplace, in securing credit, in federal transportation and housing programs and in military benefits. Advocacy groups have praised Coffman’s support on some protections and said he is not as steadfast an opponent as Pence.

We found several examples where the pair do not align. We rate this claim Mostly False.