“Wrap your minds and your hearts around the founding documents of this country,” Pence said. “The truth is the Hoos have a special connection to the Declaration of Independence. That means you have a special connection to one of the greatest documents in human history. That’s your heritage. And it’s yours to share and to protect and to hold.”
Ticket holders filled the Old Cabell Hall auditorium, which has a normal event capacity of 851, to hear Pence, who attracted regional and national media. C-SPAN carried his remarks live.
Unlike at some of Pence’s other visits to college campuses in recent months, there were no disruptions, protests or interruptions in the auditorium.
Outside Old Cabell Hall, officials designated an area near the Homer statue for protestors to gather, but only two women carrying signs ventured into the space. They left at 7:15 p.m. A few dozen students sat quietly on the grassy steps of the Lawn, many holding hand-drawn posters supporting the LGBTQ community.
Elaina Bowman, a second-year student from Winchester, wore a gay pride flag like a cape and passed out fliers outlining Pence’s voting record.
“I think it is unfair Mike Pence is being given a platform because he has discriminated against LGBTQ community members, against women’s choice, and just discriminated against people in general,” Bowman said. “I would want to tell him it is not just an idea he is against; he is against me and my friends.”
Asked during the Q&A portion of the program what he would do if a family member told him they were gay, Pence replied, “I’d look them in the eye and tell them, ‘I love you.’” He added that he respects that same-sex marriage is legalized, for example, but said his personal belief is that marriage is between a man and a woman.
“The way we come together as a country united is when we respect your right to believe and my right to believe what we believe,” he said.
In the days leading up to the visit, passions rose in anticipation of the former vice president’s appearance, with his visit serving as a kind of fulcrum for a growing debate about how threatened free speech might be at UVA and elsewhere.
“I heard there was a little controversy preceding my visit,” Pence said to laughter. He also thanked the crowd for its civility, as well as the University administration.