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Amy Coney Barrett used an offensive term while talking about LGBTQ rights. Her apology was telling.

Sen. Mazie Hirono confronted Barrett about her use of the term.

Supreme Court nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the second day of her Supreme Court confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill on October 13, 2020, in Washington, DC.
Hilary Swift/Getty Images
Li Zhou is a politics reporter at Vox, where she covers Congress and elections. Previously, she was a tech policy reporter at Politico and an editorial fellow at the Atlantic.

While discussing LGBTQ rights, Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett on Tuesday used a term that LGBTQ activists have called “offensive,” “outdated,” and a “dog whistle.”

“I have no agenda, and I do want to be clear that I have never discriminated on the basis of sexual preference and would not ever discriminate on the basis of sexual preference,” Barrett said, when asked about her stance on preserving protections for members of the LGBTQ community.

The term “sexual preference,” however, is an offensive one, which suggests that sexual orientation is a choice, Lambda Legal, a legal advocacy group, explained on Twitter.

Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) said the phrase was a “1970s term.” And Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern broke down why Barrett’s use of it was so concerning:

As Jesse Bering explained in 2013, the term is similar to other expressions, like “the gay lifestyle” or “avowed homosexual,” that were once common but are now considered offensive. These phrases play into the anti-gay canard that sexual minorities are not a discrete and insular minority deserving of constitutional protections but rather deviants who should not be rewarded for their aberrant sexuality.

Sens. Mazie Hirono and Cory Booker later confronted Barrett about her statement, prompting her to apologize. “Sexual orientation is a key part of a person’s identity,” Hirono said.

Barrett’s apology, however, was also telling, signaling that she seemingly hadn’t even realized that she was using harmful language.

“I certainly didn’t mean and would never mean to use a term that would cause any offense in the LGBTQ community,” Barrett said. “So if I did, I greatly apologize for that. I simply meant to be referring to Obergefell’s holding with respect to same-sex marriage.”

Obergefell v. Hodges, the landmark Supreme Court case guaranteeing marriage equality, is among the precedents that Barrett declined to provide a position on, citing the need to maintain impartiality — an approach many nominees have taken in the past.

Her statement about “sexual preference,” however, revealed how out of touch Barrett appears to be in how she talks about LGBTQ rights, which she’d play a critical role in making judicial decisions about if she were to become a Supreme Court Justice.