Pete Buttigieg is “not going to take lectures on family values” from Rush Limbaugh, the conservative talk radio host honoured by Donald Trump who has questioned whether Americans are ready to vote for a gay candidate for president.
“I love my husband,” the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana and candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination said on Sunday, on CNN’s State of the Union. “I love him very much.”
During his State of the Union address earlier this month, Trump gave Limbaugh the nation’s top civilian honour, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In liberal circles, the decision met with widespread criticism.
Limbaugh, 69, who recently revealed he has advanced lung cancer, subsequently said on his radio show that if Buttigieg made the debates later this year, Americans would see a “37-year-old gay guy kissing his husband on stage, next to Mr Man, Donald Trump”.
Voters, he said, would conclude that “despite all the great wokeness and despite all the great ground that’s been covered, that America’s still not ready to elect a ‘gay guy kissing his husband on the debate stage’ president”.
Some Democratic voters, he added, might decide they should “get a gay guy kissing his husband on stage, ram it down Trump’s throat and beat him in the general election. Really? Having fun envisioning that.”
Buttigieg – who is 38 – has been cautious in response but the remarks were condemned by senior members of both political parties.
Former vice-president Joe Biden, competing for the Democratic nomination, called Limbaugh’s comments “part of the depravity of this administration”.
Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican senator and key Trump ally, said Limbaugh had made “a miscalculation as to where the country is at”.
Asked if Limbaugh should retain the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Graham said: “Well, my God. Free speech still exists.”
Trump also distanced himself from the remarks by his supporter and sometime onstage companion, telling a podcast host that though some Americans wouldn’t vote for a gay president, “I wouldn’t be among that group, to be honest with you.”
On CNN on Sunday, Buttigieg was asked to respond.
“I love my husband,” he said, of Chasten Buttigieg, who he married in 2018 and who like any politician’s spouse regularly appears onstage at campaign events.
“I’m faithful to my husband. Onstage we usually just go for the hug. But I love him very much and I’m not going to take lectures on family values from the likes of Rush Limbaugh.”