WASHINGTON DC -- With more years in the U.S. Senate than any Republican in history, Orrin Hatch can still surprise.
On Wednesday, the conservative stalwart took to the Senate floor and spent 10 minutes defending young, gay Americans.
"These young people need us—and we desperately need them," Hatch said. "We need their light to illuminate the richness and diversity of God's creations. We need the grace, beauty, and brilliance they bring to the world."
His speech was meant to encourage faster passage of a bill Hatch is sponsoring to create a nationwide three-digit phone code for suicide hotlines—a kind of national 911 for emotional support.
Hatch's office circulated the text of his speech, so it was evident when he veered off script. In one notable instance, he made his own views on sexual orientation and gender identity more clear.
"I don't think they chose to be who they are. They were born to be who they are and we ought to understand that," Hatch ad-libbed.
The Salt Lake Tribune's Washington Bureau Chief, Thomas Burr, noticed something different in the speech.
"These remarks are probably the most passionate I've ever seen Senator Hatch on this issue," Burr said. "If you recall, only nine days ago the Senator was applauding the Supreme Court's decision that a baker did not have to make a cake for a gay wedding."
That last point of Burr's is exactly what drew some criticism from the left leaning website "Think Progress."
The subtitle of Think Progress' article criticizing the Senator: Hatch could do far more for LGBTQ youth if he wanted to.
Think Progress pointed out Hatch's support of the Supreme Court Masterpiece Bakery Case, his co-sponsorship of the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA)—which gay rights groups consider a legalization of discrimination—and his support for Cabinet Secretaries Ben Carson and Betsy DeVos, who have rolled back transgender protections.
Hatch's suicide hotline bill passed the Senate in November, and it's getting strong support in the House. It passed a House Subcommittee on Wednesday, putting it on the agenda for the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Utah Representative Chris Stewart is the House sponsor.
In light of recent suicides of celebrities Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, and a dramatic increase in the suicide rate nationally and in Utah as reported by the Centers for Disease Control, Hatch wants the House to fast track the legislation.
"If there were ever a time to show our LGBT friends just how much we love them, it is now," Hatch said.