SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. — Ohio Gov. John Kasich on Friday was pressed by a man in California to answer whether or not he believed people are born gay, setting off a lengthy and somewhat testy exchange that resulted in the Republican presidential candidate declaring that he believes gay people are "probably" born that way.
"Do you believe that some people are born gay?" asked Kelly Bryan, 62, of San Francisco, who attended the Commonwealth Club of California event where Kasich was the featured guest. He later described himself as a Democrat who plans to vote for Hillary Clinton.
"I'm a 62-year-old gay man who came out to both of my parents at 19," Bryan said. "And I've been gay for 45, over 40 years. Gay people are human beings and not a lifestyle choice. Please respond without prayer being an answer."
The next nearly 7 minutes set off a somewhat heated back-and-forth that the moderator tried to end numerous times while Kasich allowed it to continue.
Kasich first launched into describing what religion means to him and that he believes "we'd all be better off in this country if we prayed more." Then, without answering the man’s initial question, he turned to the issue of religious liberty laws, as he generally does when he’s asked about LGBT issues. "In terms of me, I don't believe in discrimination, I think there is a balance, however, between discrimination and people's religious liberties," Kasich said.
"But I think we should just try to, like, take a chill pill, relax, and try to get along with one another a little bit better instead of trying to write some law to solve a problem that doesn't frankly exist in big enough numbers to justify more lawmaking."
"Republicans don't believe in marriage equality, it's your platform," Bryan responded. "Well, is it?" Kasich asked. “Yes,” Brian answered. "I haven't read that thing lately," Kasich said, then Brian told him, "you really should know what you're doing."
"Well, no, they don't tell me what to do by the platform," Kasich rebuffed. "The Republican Party is my vehicle and not my master, okay? I have a right to define the Republican Party, too, okay?" He went on to mention that he believes in "traditional marriage" but also attended the gay wedding of a friend.
When Bryan challenged him again on if people are born gay, Kasich first tried to dodge an answer. "I'm not gonna get into all the analysis of this or that, I'm not gonna do that," he said. As the moderator tried to move the conversation along to the next question, Kasich bounced back. "You know, sir, probably. I mean, I don't, I don't know how it all works, okay? I mean, look. Are they? You know, probability they are. Okay?"
Bryan pressed Kasich about states like Kentucky and Mississippi that have recently passed laws he felt discriminated against the LGBT community, while the moderator again tried to move the discussion to the next question. "No, let me finish, let me finish," Kasich interrupted. "I’m not in favor of that. I'm not in favor of discrimination against anybody."
"But they're using religion,” Brian continued, as Kasich responded, "They are not me. Okay? They are not me. I'm telling you my views, okay?" He later reiterated, "Do I think that people are, are, you know, born gay? Probably. I've never studied the issue. But I don't see any reason to hurt you or to discriminate you or make you feel bad or make you feel like a second class citizen."
"One other thing," Kasich added near his conclusion. "Sometimes people, people say that they're religious, okay? Just because I say that I'm a Ford Falcon doesn't make me one. Don't you understand what that means? Just because I say I'm faithful doesn't mean that I am. Just because I make a statement. And don't put everybody who you think, you know, has religion and believes in God, don't put everybody in the same barrel."
After the event, Bryan, who said he was a member of the Commonwealth Club of California and regularly attends their events, told NBC News that he didn’t expect a very different answer from Kasich, who he called an “awful candidate.”
"I simply wanted it to be answered that gay people are born gay and that it is not a lifestyle or chosen because why would anyone choose to be gay?” he asked, adding, “He had to cop to saying, gay people are, his word, ‘probably are born that way’ and that was probably the winningiest point and that was my first question.”
Rights for LGBT couples have been a frequent topic of somewhat dramatic exchanges at Kasich’s events across in the country. In February in Michigan, Kasich was challenged by a self-described Democratic student who told him it wasn’t “enough” for him to claim he had attended a gay wedding. And earlier this month, during a stirring back-and-forth at an MSNBC town hall with Chris Matthews, Kasich stated that he supports "moving on" from the debate over gay marriage, saying of the current laws on the books, "exactly where it is now, I'm fine with it."