From what I can tell, no one really wants the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to be signed into law, with the exception of the lawmakers who passed it. To be honest, I think at this point even they probably just wish they’d left well enough alone and not bothered.
Here’s what I think has happened. I think our representatives in state government are predominantly old, white men who are angry that the world is changing. They see their privilege and status being upended by a society that is changing the rules quickly, largely due to the democratizing power of the internet. They don’t understand this new world, they don’t see how they will be useful in it, and this frightens them.
Their response is to try to mandate the perpetuation of their culture by codifying their world as they understand it into law. Remember, it was only 2004 that George Bush’s re-election was largely attributed to ‘values voters’. Their primary value, of course, being opposition to recognizing the dignity of our LGBT friends, family, and neighbors.
Indiana’s state legislators still live in this world. In their minds, they must protect our children from being ‘turned gay’ by the homosexual agenda. They must defend those ‘Christians’ who are sure that God despises homosexuals. No, enough is enough. Somehow, these brave state legislators are all that stands between us and the wrath of God and they will not let society be destroyed by these Godless liberals, not on their watch.
What these legislators have failed to realize is that in the decade or so since that election, the world changed. Many gay people stopped hiding in the shadows. They decided to stop apologizing, stop pretending to be someone they are not.
A funny thing then happened in American culture. Almost all at once, it seemed that everyone actually knew a gay person. More surprisingly for many, that gay person was an aunt, a cousin, a coworker, a friend, an old college roommate. It was someone they absolutely knew to be a good, moral, and kind person. And in short order, a very large number of Americans began to question the narrative of gay people as evil fornicators intent on recruiting your children to the homosexual lifestyle. Scientific studies began to debunk much of what we had been told about the nature of homosexuality.
And that brings us to today. Most Americans have ‘evolved’ on the issue of same-gender marriage, to use President Obama’s terminology. Most Americans believe that LGBT people should have the right to visit their spouse or partner in the hospital, receive death benefits, and be treated equally under the law. Most Americans now see members of the LGBT community as *gasp* actual people.
Indiana state legislators, apparently, are not like most Americans. They see our gay neighbors, family, and friends as ‘other’. Gay people are not worthy of the same treatment afforded to other Americans, or even other humans. They are fundamentally different in a way that renders them subhuman. Our legislators have made it clear that their view is this: “If you want to live with gay people, fine. But no one is going to tell me that I have to serve them a meal, treat their illness, or sell them a truck.”
If I believe my religion says gay people are viewed by my God as an abomination, then I should not have to recognize them as anything but that. To treat them the same as I treat anyone else is to bestow a recognition of their humanity that violates my conscience, angers my God, and places my eternal soul in jeopardy, according to these arguments.
Of course these same arguments have been used to justify prejudice and bigotry throughout history. Listen to the slave-owner in 12 Years A Slave reciting biblical scripture to explain their subjugation. It was disgusting then and it’s every bit as disgusting now.
Governor Mike Pence and our Indiana legislators who voted to pass SB 101 know they have lost. They know that our society has already accepted things they cannot conceive. It’s the reason they were desperate to get a state constitutional amendment banning same-gender marriage before the tide turned completely against them. That attempt failed and it’s not been mentioned since, I assume because they know it will never again have a chance of passing.
The failure of that law to make it to a ballot measure enraged many conservatives. As a result, I think legislators felt a need to demonstrate that they were still fighting on this issue. The Hobby Lobby decision opened up an avenue for them to save face on the basis of advocating for ‘religious freedom’. Who doesn’t love religious freedom?
I think they thought they would pass this bill and it would give them a badge of honor they could wear when visiting their bigoted constituents with lots of money. Unfortunately, they underestimated public sentiment, the new voice of progressive faith communities, and the economic impact of this decision on our state. The probable loss of GenCon is just one example of the millions of dollars of lost business we will see because of this publicity stunt.
The sad thing is, this law is completely unnecessary in every respect. Don’t believe me? Ask 111 Cakery if they were ever forced to make that cake for a gay commitment ceremony they felt violated their beliefs. Spoiler: They weren’t.
Now Indiana, which has worked so hard to shed the image of a cultural backwater, is back to being portrayed as a bunch of bigoted rednecks. That’s not who Hoosiers are, despite our troubled past with racism.
To the rest of America, I ask you not to judge our state by the actions of our representatives. Get to know us as individuals and you will find that we are not the monsters you might imagine. That approach helped America see the LGBT community as people worthy of dignity and respect, despite their reputation; maybe it will work for Hoosiers as well.
Update: Think I’m wrong about this being a consolation prize to advocates of banning gay marriage? Guess who these groups represent: