Irish premier Leo Varadkar said Thursday gay people should not be judged by their sexual orientation in a pointed speech in front of US Vice President Mike Pence, to which he brought his partner Matt Barrett.
Mr Varadkar, who is one of just three openly gay world leaders, made the comments during a meeting at the Washington residence of Mr Pence, who has previously been a vocal opponent of same-sex marriage.
Standing alongside his partner Dr Matt Barrett, the Irish Taoiseach posed for photographs with the Vice President and his sister Anne Pence Poynter on Thursday morning at the Naval Observatory.
Second Lady Karen Pence, who earlier this year drew criticism for teaching at a Virginia school that bars staff from condoning ‘homosexual or lesbian sexuality activity’ and ‘transgender identity’, was not present because she is in Abu Dhabi attending the Special Olympics.
The breakfast came on a day when the Irish prime minister was feted at the White House and Capitol to mark St Patrick’s Day, which falls on Sunday.
He held Oval Office talks with Donald Trump and attended a bipartisan luncheon on Capitol Hill with both Trump and Congressional leaders including Speaker Nancy Pelosi. He and his partner Barrett were due at the White House again for a reception held jointly by the president and First Lady Melania Trump.
The invitation makes him the first same-sex partner of a world leader to be welcomed at the White House under Trump, and also the first unmarried partner.
At his speech in front of Pence Mr Varadkar said that growing up in Ireland he was fascinated by American politics, which inspired him to run for office and ‘drive change’.
But he made sure that his visit to the capitol, which marked the first time a world leader has brought a same sex partner to President Trump’s Washington, addressed the elephant in the room.
Talking about his boyhood interest in politics, Mr Varadkar said he ‘knew at the time that I lived in a country where, if I tried to be myself at the time, it would have ended up breaking laws, but today that is all changed.
‘I stand here leader of my country, flawed and human but judged by my political actions and not by my sexual orientation, my skin tone, gender or religious beliefs.’
Mr Varadkar added: ‘I don’t believe my country is the only one in the world where this story is possible.
‘It’s found in every country were freedom and liberty are cherished.
‘We are, after all, all God’s children.
‘And that’s true of the United States as well, the land of hope, brave and free.’
Mr Pence, who describes himself as a Christian and a conservative, extended an invitation to the couple during a meeting with Mr Varadkar last year.
They met for breakfast at the official residence of the Vice President, Number One Observatory Circle, which is located on the grounds of a US naval base.
Rights groups have consistently highlighted Mr Pence’s record on LGBT issues, which they say includes an endorsement of the discredited practice of gay ‘cure’ therapy.
During Mr Pence’s Congressional campaign in 2000, he proposed amending the Ryan White Care Act – which provided care for HIV patients – to stop funding for ‘organizations that celebrate and encourage the types of behaviors that facilitate the spreading of the HIV virus’.
‘Resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behaviour,’ Mr Pence added.
These comments were widely interpreted as an assault on LGBT groups and an endorsement of conversion therapy, which Mr Pence has denied.
In 2009, the then-Congressman from Indiana voted against the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. Named after a murdered gay teenager, it expanded the definition of ‘hate crime’ to include anti-gay acts.
Later, as governor of Indiana, Mr Pence introduced the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which gave businesses leave to use their ‘conscience’ as a defence in legal disputes.
Mr Pence was later forced to amend the bill, after it was criticized for effectively legalizing discrimination against LGBT people.
Social media users voiced their appreciation for Varadkar’s decision to bring his partner to meet Pence, with one user saying it made his day.
‘That special day when Leo Varadkar—Ireland’s young, openly gay, biracial son of an Indian immigrant—prime minister brings his partner to a meeting with Pence,’ commented another.
‘I hope they take many pictures.’
Pence, however, had been defended earlier this week by Ric Grenell, Trump’s openly-gay ambassador to Germany. The vice-president swore in Grenell last May with the new ambassador’s partner Matt Lashey holding the Bible.
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SOURCE: Daily Mail, Miranda Aldersley and Francesca Chambers