"Let me make clear, 'sexual preference' is an offensive and outdated term," Sen. Mazie Hirono told the nominee, who apologized

By Sean Neumann
October 14, 2020 11:15 AM
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| Credit: Drew Angerer/Getty

Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett apologized Tuesday for referring to sexual orientation as a “preference” during increasingly heated hearings in the Senate the day before.

Barrett, 48, apologized for her wording after Sen. Mazie Hirono, a Democratic lawmaker from Hawaii, questioned the judge Tuesday about why she had referred to a person’s orientation as a “preference” the day before when asked about her stance on the landmark Obergefell v. Hodges case.

The 2015 Supreme Court case made same-sex marriage legal in the U.S. Barrett was asked whether she agreed or disagreed with late Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissenting opinion on the case.

"I have never discriminated on the basis of sexual preference and would not discriminate on the basis of sexual preference,” Barrett responded to the question Monday, posed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

The next day, Hirono, 72, pressed the conservative judge on her word choice, saying that her phrasing was “offensive and outdated,” as it implies a person’s sexual orientation is a choice.

"Not once but twice you used the term 'sexual preferences' to describe those in the LGBTQ community," Hirono said to Barrett, according to NPR. "Let me make clear, 'sexual preference' is an offensive and outdated term. It is used by anti-LGTBQ activists to suggest that sexual orientation is a choice."

Barrett then apologized.

"I certainly didn't mean and would never mean to use a term that would cause any offense in the LGBTQ community," Barrett said. "So, if I did, I greatly apologize for that. I simply meant to be referring to Obergefell's holding with respect to same-sex marriage."

(Some on social media noted that Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has also used the term.)

Sen. Mazie Hirono
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The exchange highlighted what has been an intense week of questioning aimed at the nominee, who was named by President Donald Trump last month about a week after Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died.

Amid the backdrop of an already contentious presidential election, Democratic lawmakers have accused their Republican colleagues of hypocrisy for pushing to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court while Trump is still in office — less than a month from the election.

Judge Amy Coney Barrett's family and others in attendance at her Senate confirmation hearings on Monday.
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The GOP-led Senate had blocked President Barack Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland in the spring of 2016 by arguing that the then vacant seat left by Justice Scalia’s death should be filled by the next elected president. Republicans said then that the nomination came too close to the election.

Now, Democratic lawmakers say the Republican senators have changed their tune in an effort to vote Barrett onto the bench, giving the court a powerful six-to-three conservative margin.

“I believe, and the American people need to understand, that you would be the polar opposite of Justice Ginsburg,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar told Barrett on Tuesday, highlighting the ideological swing Democratic lawmakers fear the Court would take if her nomination is approved. “She and Justice Scalia were friends, yes, but she never embraced his legal philosophy.”