Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana may have done more to advance the cause of gay rights in one short week than anybody else over the past couple of years, albeit unintentionally.
His clumsy attempt to burnish his credentials with his party’s base for a run at national office next year (some saw him as presidential material, some as a potential running mate) ended with a full-blown surrender. The state, under tremendous pressure from many fronts, will quite publicly implement anti-discrimination language. Advisers and business leaders had tried to convince Gov. Pence of the move’s folly, but he either thought such a bill would attract little attention, or it would slip by unnoticed, but it unleashed a maelstrom of protest.
Watershed moments in our history often come about by strange circumstances, and I think this is one of them. They are often unplanned, and the consequences often are not what were intended.
On the face of it, the bill seemed simple, the title inarguable: A Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Who could possibly be against religious freedom?
It is one of the hallmarks of our country ... the ability to practice one’s religion, or to not practice religion, is one of our most important rights.
If such a law had been a bit more expertly passed, or if it had been paired with an anti-discrimination part, as is the case in states that have passed similar laws, there would have been no outcry. Not only was the governor forced to retreat from his position; he felt the need to publicly ask for changes that would provide protection from discrimination. [“Ind. Governor wants changes to religious-objections law,” Associated Press article, April 1]
His claim of not knowing it would affect gay people is weak when he posed with people who supported it, and almost all of them were from the anti-LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning) contingent.
What makes this unique is not just the reversal of policy, even if it happened quickly. The outcry from people and business leaders, including former Republican leaders and politicians in Indiana, showed how far we’ve come as a country in attitudes towards the LGBTQ community. Recent studies show that over 70 percent of Americans favor laws protecting gays from job discrimination, and there are similar results on other issues such as adoption and marriage of this community. While there are certainly regional and age differences in these beliefs, there is no doubt that Americans are much more accepting and supportive than ever before.
Similar to other critical moments in our country’s history, it had a cascade effect. Other states that were considering similar laws, even states firmly in the “Red” column, immediately took notice. Montana defeated a similar bill, Georgia amended their law to prohibit discrimination, Arkansas’ governor won’t sign their bill until changes are made, and the governor of North Carolina will probably veto a bill, saying there is no purpose to it.
Such moves by state legislatures and governors may make this year’s Supreme Court decision on gay marriage almost anticlimactic; no matter the result, the trend is clear: The high-water mark of discrimination against gays has been passed, and it is in retreat.