In May, the nation of Uganda enacted a law called the Anti-Homosexuality Act, 2023. The law criminalizes homosexuality, which can be punished, in some instances, with the death penalty. The White House quickly issued a statement calling the law “a tragic violation of universal human rights” and describing its passage as part of “an alarming trend of human rights abuses” in the East African republic. But Joe Biden wasn’t alone in condemning the law—one of the most vocal critics of the law criminalizing gay Ugandans was none other than Texas’s own junior senator. The same day the White House released Biden’s statement, Ted Cruz took to Twitter to voice his opposition.

To casual observers, this was a surprise. Following Cruz’s previous positions could lead one to suspect that he was an unlikely candidate to defend gay rights. For instance: Cruz, in 2015, described the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, the case that guaranteed the right to gay marriage, as the “very definition of tyranny,” saying that “we should be horrified at the notion that five unelected judges can seize authority from the American people.” Lest one think his opposition was strictly over judicial overreach, when the matter of same-sex marriage came before the Senate last November, Cruz voted against the Respect For Marriage Act, arguing that it infringed on religious liberty. (The bill nonetheless passed the Senate and was signed into law in December.) 

So what changed for Cruz? The answer those of us burdened with closely following the senator’s statements and policy positions can provide is: nothing, really. While Cruz has never been a supporter of expanding gay rights—and has been a vocal opponent of transgender rights, including trying to deny transgender people access to bathrooms, youth sports, and promotional cans from beer companies, for some reason—he’s nonetheless managed to oppose laws that criminalize gay folks for existing. Last year, for instance, he urged the Lege to overturn the (currently unenforceable) state ban on “sodomy”—the statute against which includes gay sex—arguing that “consenting adults should be able to do what they wish in their private sexual activity, and government has no business in their bedrooms.” 

When it comes to gay rights, Ted Cruz seems to operate in a very narrow lane: He believes that individuals, religious organizations, and other private entities should have the right to discriminate against gay people, and that state intervention that would prevent such discrimination is nothing short of tyranny; but, on the other hand, he believes that a state using its authority to make gay people criminals for what they do in their bedrooms is also an example of tyranny, and he is consistent in his opposition to such laws. In other words: Private discrimination is cool, but state discrimination is not.

On Monday, Cruz again reiterated his opposition to laws such as Uganda’s. The pastor of a Florida church responded to Cruz’s Twitter post by citing a section of Leviticus that refers to homosexuality, and Cruz quickly entered High School Debate Team Mode. He argued that the laws of man are not those of the Old Testament and cited another famous passage from Leviticus (20:9, which calls for anyone who curses their mother or father to be put to death) to ask if the pastor believes that anyone who disrespects their parents should be killed by the state. Cruz numbered his posts in a way that suggested he might explore the issue in greater depth, but appeared to consider the matter settled after just two tweets confirming his opposition to the execution of gay people. 

With that out of the way, the junior senator returned to using his platform to speak to other issues. A few hours later, Cruz posted a link to an episode of his podcast, The Verdict with Ted Cruz, in which he repeated the unfounded claim that eight-, nine-, and ten-year-olds are being subjected to gender reassignment surgery, despite there being no evidence to indicate that this has ever happened.