Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg has criticized Vice President Mike Pence for his views on gay marriage, saying that his civil marriage to his same-sex partner has led him closer to God.

Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, contracted a civil marriage with his partner Chasten, in a June 2018 Episcopalian ceremony.

Before he became vice president, Pence was Indiana's governor from 2013 until 2017. In that office, he supported an attempt to amend the state constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman, and signed the 2015 Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law. The act was criticized by gay rights activists as permitting discrimination by religious organizations.

"My marriage to Chasten has made me a better man," said Buttigieg, speaking April 7 at a fundraiser for the Victory Fund, an organization dedicated to electing homosexual political candidates.

"And yes, Mr. Vice President, it has moved me closer to God."

Buttigieg said that he wishes "the Mike Pences of the world would understand" that he was born gay and that he cannot change this. "Your problem is not with me. Your quarrel, sir, is with my creator," Buttigieg said.

Both Pence and Buttigieg are baptized Catholics, but neither attends Mass. Buttigieg describes himself as a devout Episcopalian. Pence attends an evangelical church and has described himself as an "evangelical Catholic."

Earlier this year, a brief controversy arose after it was announced that Pence's wife, Karen, had taken a job teaching art at Immanuel Christian School. Immanuel Christian School considers homosexual sex acts to be "moral misconduct," and employees are not permitted to engage in or support these activities.

Pence has denied criticisms that he is "homophobic," saying that his support for traditional marriage law and religious freedom initiatives, including Indiana's 2015 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, are not borne of homophobia.

More in US

Pence said in 2015 that Indiana law "does not allow businesses the right to deny services to anyone."

In 2015, he said on Twitter that "If I saw a restaurant owner refuse to serve a gay couple, I wouldn't eat there anymore."

The Catholic Church teaches that marriage is a lifelong partnership between one man and one woman. While teaching that homosexual acts are in themselves disordered and sinful, the Church also says that of those who experience same-sex attraction must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity.

Fr. Thomas Petri, O.P., Petri, vice president and academic dean at the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, DC, told CNA that the Church's view on human sexuality is rooted not only in tradition and scripture, but also in the natural law.

"Quite simply, the Catholic tradition going back not only to Judaism but to the natural law is that sex is ordered to procreation and the raising of children. Sex brings a man and a woman together in a union that is not only life-giving but also bond-creating. It's a union that cannot be simulated by any other type of genital activity," Petri said.

"Insisting that sex can or should work any other way is to lie to oneself in a desperate attempt to justify a disorder of sexuality and self-image."

Petri told CNA that he rejects Buttigieg's claim that God creates anyone to have a homosexual sexual orientation.

(Story continues below)

"To further conclude that God positively wills people to have disordered desires approaches the line of material heresy and flies in the face of what Christians have believed about God for two thousand years," he said.

Last week, Pope Francis said that experiencing homosexual desire is not itself sinful, likening the experience to a disposition to anger, and underscoring the Church's teaching that only acts, including acts of the will, constitute sin. The pope also noted an increasing sexualization of young people in society, and cautioned parents against making assumptions about their children's sexual orientation.

On Meet the Press on Sunday, Buttigieg also defended earlier remarks in which he appeared to question President Donald Trump's belief in God, suggesting that Trump's Evangelical Christian supporters are hypocrites.

Trump, said Buttigieg, is not following scriptural imperatives for believers to care for widows and immigrants, and therefore is not behaving in a Christlike manner.

"The hypocrisy is unbelievable," said Buttigieg. "Here you have somebody who not only acts in a way that is not consistent with anything that I hear in scripture in church, where it's about lifting up the least among us and taking care of strangers, which is another word for immigrants, and making sure that you're focusing your effort on the poor--but also personally, how you're supposed to conduct yourself."

Self-described white born-again/evangelical Christians voted overwhelmingly for Trump in 2016, with 81 percent in favor compared to only 16 percent voting for Hillary Clinton.

Historically, white evangelical support for Republican presidential candidates has never fallen below 74 percent. In 2016, the Protestant/other Christian vote split was nearly identical to the 2012 election.

Catholics, particularly Hispanic Catholics, supported Trump in 2016 at higher levels than they did Mitt Romney in 2012. The last time a Republican presidential candidate won majority support among Catholic voters was George W. Bush in 2004.

In response to Buttigieg's comments on biblical imperatives, Meet the Press host Chuck Todd asked the mayor about his thoughts on abortion. Buttigieg, who considers himself pro-choice, said that he thinks abortion is a moral question that should be decided by a woman and her doctor, not by "a male government official imposing his interpretation of his religion."

The Church teaches that abortion is the deliberate ending of an innocent human life, and is a grave sin.

Dr. Chad Pecknold, associate professor of systematic theology at the Catholic University of America, told CNA that Buttigieg offered "a very selective account of Christianity."

"Mr. Buttigieg invokes Christian authority wherever it can be made to agree with his politics, and yet finds it irrelevant wherever it disagrees," said Pecknold.

"This approach makes Christianity into a political plaything. This is perfectly illustrated by the way Mr. Buttigieg claims that public policy should favor the poor, but not the unborn. When he calls out other politicians for their Christian hypocrisy, it's less a matter of theological expertise than a case of the pot calling the kettle."

"Authentic Christian political thought does not choose between those who need to be protected and defended," Pecknold said.