A Republican congressman was caught on tape telling a group of high school students children would be better off living in orphanages than with same-sex parents.

New Jersey Rep. Chris Smith visited Colts Neck High School on May 29, but audio from the event where he made the controversial remarks was only recently released after being obtained by the Washington Blade.

Smith has voted in favor of a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman, against prohibiting job discrimination based on sexual orientation, and against same-sex adoption. He also co-sponsored the First Amendment Defense Act, a so-called “religious freedom” bill that would allow for anti-LGBTQ discrimination nationwide, and voted for an amendment to ban the military from paying for transition-related healthcare for trans service members.

In the recording, senior Hannah Valdes can be heard telling the lawmaker she has a gay sister and asking him to justify his previous statement. Valdez said the congressman had claimed “household studies” showed same-sex parents do not offer a healthy environments for children to grow up in. Those remarks were not caught on tape.

Studies have routinely showed that children raised in such homes are just as healthy and prosperous as their counterparts raised in opposite-sex parent homes.

When pressed if he thought Valdes’ sister would be somehow less of a legitimate parent, Smith attempted to deflect by calling it a moot point, since the Supreme Court has legalized marriage equality, and noting her sister was “free to adopt.”

While same-sex couples are allowed to marry, a number of states allow religious organizations to deny those couples that right, even if they receive taxpayer funding.

Valdes asked if he believed opposite-sex parents are more suitable, to which he replied that in his opinion “a child needs every possibility of…” before trailing off.

“Somebody mentioned orphanages before,” he added. “I mean, orphanages are still a possibility for some kids.”

Another student can be heard asking Smith if he is saying he would rather have children in orphanages than with gay parents.

“After I asked my question and challenged him, an administrator cut in to change the topic,” Valdes told the Blade.

“Rep. Smith started to discuss a recent project he was working on, but the auditorium was already filled with tension, and most of the audience was already talking about what Rep. Smith had just said. More students began to raise their hands, and the administration quickly realized that their students would likely be asking more questions regarding LGBT rights. Instead of taking further questions, the assembly was promptly ended and all of us were sent back to class.”

She characterized her school as a progressive, accepting place, and thus found Smith’s presence there confusing and his words “offensive.”

“I knew that there were multiple students in the auditorium who were a part of the LGBT community, and that they were simply too scared to say anything to this congressman. In a situation like this, I just simply could not stay silent,” she added.

“Chris Smith’s out-of-touch views might have flown in 1980 when he was elected, but his time has passed,” said his Democratic opponent, businessman and Navy veteran Josh Welle.

“In 2018, in Central Jersey, it is unacceptable to imply a child would be better off in an orphanage than with a loving LGBTQ family. As a veteran, I fought on the front lines alongside men and women who gave their lives to protect and defend the civil liberties that our Constitution ensures for everyone, not just a few. Chris Smith takes us backwards on inclusion and basic human rights for all.”

School officials thanked Smith for coming to the school, with Supervisor Peter Krais noting the “great student questions and conversation.” Principal Brian Donahue retweeted that tweet and said “students appreciate hearing first hand how our government functions.”

Journalist based in Charlotte, North Carolina, whose work has appeared in The Charlotte Observer, Creative Loafing, and more.