Mike Littwin: Aw-shucks, America
Indiana governor and likely Republican presidential candidate Mike Pence is shocked (shocked!) to discover the pandering anti-gay law he signed is abhorrent to much of the country.
In case anyone is still confused, the world has officially changed, including the part that belongs to Indiana.
In today’s world, when you pass a so-called “religious freedom” law that can readily be interpreted as the freedom to use religious beliefs to discriminate against the LGBT community, everything turns upside down.
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, a would-be Republican presidential candidate, is learning that the hard way. You’d have thought he would have caught on around the time that Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed a similar law, but apparently not. She knew boycotts were coming. Indiana Republican leaders said they had no idea.
It’s fair to say this law wouldn’t have been controversial 10 years ago. Or maybe even five years ago. For all I know, it may not be controversial today in Arkansas, where a similar law is being passed. After all, there are laws like this one — if not exactly like this one —in states around the country. There’s a federal religious freedom (RFRA) law — but one that passed in a different time, 20-some years ago, with liberal and conservative votes and which was instigated by a case about Native Americans being fired for using peyote. No one mentioned whether they were gay or straight.
That was then. And now?
Now, Indiana’s new law comes the year after a court ruled that same-sex marriage is legal in Indiana. No one can honestly question the timing.
Now, after Pence signed the bill into law in a private ceremony, nine leaders of major Indiana corporations send a letter to the governor and legislative leaders demanding a change; Apple president Tim Cook blasts the law as discriminatory; rock groups and political leaders announce boycotts; leaders of the Indiana state legislature call a news conference to say they need to address the fact that a bill they say was meant to be inclusive now seems exclusive; the NCAA, which is headquartered in Indianapolis and is holding the Final Four there this weekend, says it might be forced to leave unless the law is changed; the state’s flagship newspaper, the Indianapolis Star, gives up its front page to an editorial headlined, in go-to-war type, “FIX THIS NOW.”
The Star’s editorial says the law threatens Indiana’s reputation and its economic well-being — and that it must be changed to prohibit discrimination “on the basis of a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Everyone seems to get it except Pence, who actually probably does get it, but can’t figure out what to do about it.
What he did say was that he had no plans to push an anti-gay-discrimination law. The next day, though, he’s writing an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal saying he “abhors discrimination.” He said if a restaurant discriminated against gays, he wouldn’t eat there. What he didn’t say is that it should be illegal for the restaurant to discriminate.
Why can’t he make that jump?
You know why. Ask Jeb Bush, who knows that he’s having problems winning over the conservative vote, and so he goes on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show to align himself with Pence, saying: “This is simply allowing people of faith space to be able to express their beliefs, to have, to be able to be people of conscience. I just think, once the facts are established, people aren’t going to see this as discriminatory at all.”
Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz have also backed Pence. Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, tweeted that it was “sad this new Indiana law could happen in America today.”
We can all remember when same-sex marriage was very much a wedge issue. The thing is, it still is a wedge issue — but one that points in the complete opposite direction. It’s hard to put a date on when this issue changed, but what we know is that it has changed dramatically, and when bakers and florists cite religious reasons for refusing service to LGBT customers, it becomes a headline story about discrimination.
Pence has tried to blame the media for the controversy, but the media, of course, rarely pay much attention to Indiana unless they’re playing the Final Four there, as they are this weekend. He wants to blame Obamacare, because which Republican doesn’t want to blame Obamacare? He notes that Barack Obama voted for a religious freedom bill when he was in the Illinois state legislature, but forgets to mention that it was a very different bill, passed in a very different political atmosphere.
So what does Pence do? He defends the law, sort of.
He goes on This Week with George Stephanopoulos and pulls a Cory Gardner. Stephanopoulos asks him six times whether the law allows people to discriminate against gays. And six times Pence dodges the direct question, refusing to say.
Because, of course, there’s no good way for him to answer, which is at the root of his problem.
If Pence answers yes, he’s saying it really was all about the right to discriminate. If he answers no, he’s saying there was no reason to pass the law to begin with.
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