NBC BLK: Indiana’s Legislative Temper Tantrum Against The Left

After seven days of dithering around, Governor Mike Pence has capitulated and agreed to ‘fix’ the Religious Freedom Restoration Act passed by his state legislature before it would be signed. He tried, with varying degrees of success to get out of doing anything about the law, but after Asa Hutchinson backed off a similar bill and with the NCAA tournament breathing down his neck, Pence folded faster than you can say “2016 Veepstakes.”

And while ostensibly this is a victory for human rights and gay rights in America, it is a horrible indictment of the Republican party and our democracy in general. It proves that some Republican legislatures are simply bullies, and they have given up any pretense of justifying legislation on a moral of faith basis, even when, in this case there is a sound argument to be made.

America’s views on homosexuality are complex and if Pence or Hutchinson had any backbone they could argue that the Religious Freedom Act and similar legislation might be discriminatory, but has merit as reflection of majority will and protecting religious freedom. The question is not whether such laws are right or wrong (they’re wrong) but whether at least political leaders would be driven to legislation by something other than spite and cheap political stunts.
Recent polls by Pew show that around 45% of Americans consider homosexuality to be a sin, while at the same time 60% of Americans think that gays should be “accepted” in society. So while this may not be as simplistic as the “Love the Sinner Hate the Sin” bromide, it is clear that a large number of Americans can privately dislike homosexuality but don’t necessarily believe that openly discriminating against gays, lesbians and transgender people is okay either.

It’s this level of nuance Republicans either don’t understand or have outright ignored to score cheap political points for limited political mileage. Attempting to define the boundaries between one’s personal prejudices against homosexuals and civic and commerce responsibilities as a U.S. citizen is a perfectly reasonable legislative purpose. Conservatives cannot legislate homosexuals out of existence, but what you can do is argue that they want to carve out a space for those who disagree with homosexuality on religious grounds and the rights of all citizens to engage in commerce, work and service.

Instead, the law was justified in public discourse by outrageous stories of hypothetical small town bakers in Indiana who were being bombarded every weekend by Ace and Gary forcing them to bake a thousand rainbow wedding cakes to the tune of “It’s Raining Men.” Not only were such notions homophobic and stereotypical fear mongering but there were no credible examples of any such impositions on businesses occurring. Just like Voter ID laws created to stop non-existent voter fraud, Religious Freedom Acts are a solution to a problem that only exists in the fevered nightmares of social conservatives.

If I run a print shop based on conservative Christian principles how does making flyers for a gay couple (assuming I even know they’re gay) looking to sell their car harm me or my business? Allowing a business to deny services for a particular event they don’t want to be associated with (a gay marriage, a Quinceanera, Kwanzaa celebration, Ku Klux Klan Rally) is one thing, but allowing businesses to deny services just because of what people “ARE” is a different argument. I find neither argument healthy for democracy but at least the argument could be made, instead these governors chickened out – TWICE.

First Mike Pence tried to pretend that they law wasn’t intended to target homosexuals and second he folded the moment there was any heat. If these laws were conceived of with any legitimacy, Republicans should’ve tried to justify their position and taken it to the public. There could have been a healthy debate, lawsuits and eventually the law would get overturned, but it would have been exposed and discussed and democracy would have functioned properly.

That fact that Pence and Republicans in the Indiana Legislature folded so quickly shows that the “Religious Freedom Act” was nothing more than a legislative temper tantrum against the ‘left’, it was bureaucratic bullying, and no guiding constitutional or moral principle existed to justify the law.

In a state facing the highest HIV breakout in history, and typical problems of infrastructure and education improvements, it is disgraceful that state legislatures had nothing better to do than harass gay people. But what’s worse is they couldn’t even justify it on principle, since they were ready to roll those back the moment dollar bills were waved in their faces.

This article orginally appeared online at NBC BLK.

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