The confirmation this week of Sam Brownback as the U.S. ambassador for international religious freedom quickly drew criticism from Senate Democrats — none of whom voted to confirm him — and LGBTQ advocacy groups who criticized his past record of opposing gay rights.
Brownback, a Republican, said Thursday that he would resign next week as the governor of Kansas, where he was a favorite of Christian conservatives for his opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion but whose fiscal policies left him deeply unpopular.
In his new role, Brownback will lead the Office of International Religious Freedom, a section of the State Department responsible for “promoting religious freedom as a core objective of U.S. foreign policy.”
The Senate vote on his confirmation Wednesday split along party lines, 49-49, requiring Vice President Mike Pence to break the tie.
Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., said Wednesday that he was concerned that in his new role Brownback would focus solely on protecting Christian minorities.
"I firmly believe that anyone seeking to represent the United States of America must actively champion the right of all people to worship freely and without fear," Menendez said.
"There is a vast difference between combating the real and horrific persecution facing religious minorities across the globe and Brownback’s own record of distorting religious freedom to promote anti-LGBTQ discrimination."
Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, a conservative evangelical organization, applauded Brownback's confirmation.
"Innocent people around the world are imprisoned, tortured, and persecuted for their faith. Christians and religious minorities are suffering more persecution than at any time in history," Staver said in a statement. "Gov. Brownback has proven that he will fight for religious freedom and will do an excellent job defending this sacred freedom around the world."
David Stacy, the government affairs director of the Human Rights Campaign, a national LGBTQ advocacy group, said his organization is “deeply disappointed” with Brownback’s confirmation.
“For decades, Sam Brownback has attacked the LGBTQ community and worked to undermine fairness and equality,” Stacy said in a statement. “His extremist, anti-LGBTQ actions should disqualify him from representing the people of the United States.”
Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD, a national LGBTQ media advocacy group, said in a statement, "There is a vast difference between combating the real and horrific persecution facing religious minorities across the globe and Brownback’s own record of distorting religious freedom to promote anti-LGBTQ discrimination."
Brownback, who served in Congress for 15 years before becoming Kansas governor in 2011, has a long history of opposing LGBTQ rights.
In 2004, he was an original co-sponsor of a proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, calling it a “grave threat to our central social institution and a serious affront to the democratic rule in our nation.”
Once elected governor of Kansas, Brownback revoked a 2007 executive order signed by his predecessor as governor, Kathleen Sebelius, that provided nondiscrimination protections to state employees on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Then in 2016, Brownback signed SB 175, a “religious freedom” law" that allowed university groups to exclude LGBTQ students. Under the law, student groups could claim that LGBTQ membership violated their religious convictions and still be entitled to receive university funds.
In October 2017, while being questioned by Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., during a hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Brownback refused to provide a clear answer to Kaine’s repeated questions regarding whether there would be a “circumstance under which religious freedom can justify criminalizing, imprisoning or executing people based on their LGBT status.”
Equality Kansas, a group dedicated to ending LGBTQ discrimination in the state, released a statement following Brownback’s appointment saying he is "unsuited to represent American values of freedom, liberty and justice.”
"His goal is not to use religion as a way to expand freedom, but to use a narrow, bigoted interpretation of religion to deny freedom to his fellow citizens,” the organization’s statement read. “He has caused enough damage here in Kansas. We do not wish him upon the world."