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.
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.
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.