In an interview with MSNBC's Chris Hayes Thursday evening, U.S. Senate candidate Cory Booker dismissed rumors about his sexuality as irrelevant to the campaign, saying when pressed that he has "affirmed my sexual orientation numerous times over the years."
"My sexuality is not an issue right now, especially because it's been talked about by me for years," Booker said.
The discussion with Hayes focused largely on Booker's criminal justice reform proposal, a policy paper released Wednesday that aims to curb mass incarceration by taking steps toward marijuana decriminalization, ending mandatory minimum sentences for low-level drug offenders, and fostering reentry programs.
The conversation turned quickly to Booker's personal life.
In an article in The Washington Post published earlier this week, Booker said questions about his sexual preference allow him "to challenge people on their homophobia," he said. "I love seeing on Twitter when someone says I'm gay, and I say, 'So what does it matter if I am? So be it. I hope you are not voting for me because you are making the presumption that I'm straight.'"
Steve Lonegan, Booker's Republican challenger in this year's New Jersey special senate election, was asked about the interview. "It's kind of weird. As a guy, I personally like being a guy," he said.
In the interview on MSNBC, Hayes asked, "If you are gay, why would you not just come out?"
"It's a ridiculous discussion," Booker responded. "The question really should not be whether I'm gay or straight. The question should be why the heck are you asking the question in the first place. It doesn't make a whit of difference."
Booker, who has spoken frequently and publicly about dating women, said his sexuality is well known by the "local press" that has covered his City Hall for years. In the Post article that set off discussion about Booker's personal life, he says he keeps his dating life private because it would be "unfair" to "a young lady to put them in the spotlight if they haven't signed up for that yet."
"What I am trying to say to you is that I have affirmed my sexual orientation numerous times over the years. People in my local press world know exactly what that is," Booker told Hayes, noting that by refusing to say definitively one way or the other whether he is gay or straight gives him the opportunity to make a strong statement in the race against Lonegan.
"The reality is that the point I'm getting a chance to make right now — and I really, really want to drive this home — is we need to stop in American talking about anybody in the public realm besides what is important: the content of their character, the quality of their ideas, the courage within their hearts to serve others," said Booker. "That's what's important."
Ruby Cramer is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Ruby Cramer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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