Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar brought his partner, Matthew Barrett, with him to breakfast with Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday.
Some people online were quick to point out the juxtaposition because Pence has consistently received harsh criticism from LGBTQ activists. Pence, a conservative Christian, has not been quiet about his opposition to same-sex marriage in the past, once saying on the House floor: “Societal collapse was always brought about following an advent of the deterioration of marriage and family.”
On his last trip to the US last year, Varadkar had a closed-door meeting with Pence. Afterward, he told reporters that he had brought up the issue of LGBTQ rights with him. He also said Pence and his wife told him that he and his partner were “very welcome to visit their home in the future.”
Varadkar took Pence up on his offer on Thursday, bringing Barrett along for a morning reception at the vice president’s residence on the grounds of the US Naval Observatory.
This time, the reception was open to reporters, so cameras were rollingwhen Varadkar talked about the change he’s seen in his traditionally Catholic country when it comes to acceptance of gay people.
Varadkar said that growing up in Ireland, he was always “fascinated by American politics,” which “inspired me to believe in the power of politics to do good.”
“I also knew at the time that I lived in a country where, if I tried to be myself at the time, I would have ended up breaking laws,” he said. “But today that has all changed. I stand here leader of my country, flawed and human, but judged by my political actions and not my sexual orientation, my skin tone, gender, or religious beliefs.”
Varadkar said Ireland isn’t the only place where this is possible, but “every country where freedom and liberty are cherished.”
“We are, after all, all God’s children,” he said.
Pence avoided mentioning LGBTQ rights in his speech, instead focusing on his family’s ties to Ireland. He said he is planning a trip to Ireland with his Irish-born mother.
“People often ask me what I felt on Inauguration Day when I raised my right hand,” Pence said. “As I looked out at that vast throng of Americans and took that oath, I thought about my grandpa … He was proud to be an American, but I can still hear that Irish brogue in my heart when my grandfather used to talk about the old country and his home across the pond. His love for the Irish people, his love for the Irish heritage is bone-marrow deep.”