Sens. Cory BookerCory BookerSenate Democrats urge Biden to get beefed-up child tax credit into spending deal Despite Senate setbacks, the fight for voting rights is far from over Small ranchers say Biden letting them get squeezed MORE (N.J.) and Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisClyburn predicts Supreme Court contender J. Michelle Childs would get GOP votes Hispanics sour on Biden and Democrats' agenda as midterms loom Officer who directed rioters away from senators says Jan. 6 could have been a 'bloodbath' MORE (Calif.) are coming under scrutiny over appearances the Democratic presidential candidates made with a Las Vegas pastor who has described homosexuality as a sin.
Both senators separately attended services last week with Rev. Robert E. Fowler Sr. at Victory Missionary Baptist Church, one of the state’s largest black churches. Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersOn The Money — No SALT, and maybe no deal Menendez goes after Sanders over SALT comments It's time for the Senate to vote: Americans have a right to know where their senators stand MORE (I-Vt.), another presidential contender, held a town hall at the church on July 6, but did not appear with Fowler or attend a service led by him.
Fowler in a 2013 interview with Nevada Public Radio said homosexuality was enough to send someone to hell, while comparing it to other sins.
“Whether you commit adultery, whether you commit fornication, whether you’re a child molester, you gossip, you lie, you cheat on your taxes, you don’t pay your tithes, things of that nature — all of that is wrapped together as sin, along with homosexuality,” Fowler said.
“Any sin, if you break the law in one area, you’ve broken it in all areas. If you mess up in one area, that’s enough to send you to hell — so any sin is pretty bad for me," he said.
Fowler’s office did not respond to The Hill when asked about his past remarks and meetings with the candidates, but he affirmed his stance on homosexuality in an interview with the Bay Area News Group on Sunday.
“Homosexuality, adultery, fornication, those are all sexual sins addressed in scripture,” Fowler said.
Harris delivered a speech at Fowler’s church on Sunday and attended services that morning. Booker was at the church on Saturday evening, according to a report by the San Jose Mercury News, which first reported the visits.
An official from Harris’s campaign told The Hill that the campaign was not aware of Fowler’s past statements. A spokeswoman for the campaign separately emphasized her advocacy on LGBTQ issues, while stating that Harris would continue to visit houses of worship around the country.
“Senator Harris' support and advocacy for LGBTQ equality has been unwavering throughout her career and will continue when elected President,” a spokeswoman said. “She will continue to visit houses of worship across the country to address congregants about the pressing issues we face as a nation.”
Booker distanced himself from Fowler’s remarks, but his campaign did not respond to a question from The Hill about whether he knew of them before his appearance.
“Cory does not share these views,” Booker’s national press secretary, Sabrina Singh, said in a statement to The Hill. “Throughout his career, Cory has been a consistent fighter for the rights of LGBTQ people and even refused to officiate weddings as Newark mayor until same-sex couples were granted the same rights as everyone. He'll keep fighting to end discrimination as president.”
LGBTQ groups are largely giving a pass to Harris and Booker over the appearances, though the Human Rights Campaign said it was disappointed by the visits.
“Pastor Fowler’s statements and his history with the LGBTQ community are deeply troubling. Rhetoric matters, and with LGBTQ people under attack across the country, condemning hateful words and hate-fueled violence matters more than ever,” Lucas Acosta, Human Rights Campaign's national press secretary for campaigns, told The Hill.
“While we’re disappointed by their visits to Fowler’s church, Senators Booker, Harris and Sanders have all been strong allies of the LGBTQ community, including earning 100% HRC Congressional Scorecard ratings,” Acosta added.
Fowler’s church has been a stop in past presidential campaigns given Nevada’s prominence in the Democratic race. In 2016, both of the main contenders in Nevada, Sanders and Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe Armageddon elections to come Poll: Trump leads 2024 Republican field with DeSantis in distant second The politics of 'mind control' MORE, attended the same service at the church.
African Americans make up 10 percent of Nevada’s population, according to the census.
The Nevada caucuses will be the third contest in next year’s primary, after caucuses in Iowa and the New Hampshire primary, and candidates are already positioning themselves for the contest.
LGBTQ advocacy groups that talked to The Hill said they recognized that context, and they made a point to note that Booker and Harris have compiled strong records on LGBTQ rights.
“Senators Harris and Booker have been champions for the LGBTQ community throughout their careers. We would never ask or expect a candidate to ignore an entire faith community simply because they disagree with the pastor,” Samuel Garrett-Pate, spokesman for Equality California, told The Hill.
Harris called for an end to California’s ban on same-sex marriages as the state’s attorney general and directed clerks to marry same-sex couples once the ban was lifted in 2013.
As Newark mayor and New Jersey’s Senator-elect, Booker presided over the state’s first same-sex marriages at Newark City Hall in 2013, and he has grilled Trump administration appointees over their stances on same-sex marriage.
This year’s Democratic primary field includes South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who has a chance to be the most successful openly gay presidential candidate in history.
Buttigieg’s campaign declined to comment on the appearances by Harris and Booker at Fowler’s church.
Max Greenwood contributed to this report.