(LOS ANGELES) The past few weeks have been a rodeo of an LGBT firestorm. No matter which side of the fence you are on regarding LGBT rights, you were forced to choose between your first child and your gay best friend by no fault of your own. Before last week, Mike Pense was a quiet Christian man, governing a state who's GDP was growing at an astonishing rate during the current deep-recession ridden America. Against the cautious advisement of his staff, he decided to sign a bill passed by the Indiana state legislature enshrining a 'Religious Freedom Restoration Act" into the Indiana state constitution. This bill was a broader version of the Federal RFRA and didn't have the same state and local ordinances protecting LGBT individuals like the other 19 states with similar bills. This bill was broader and could potentially open the door to discrimination against the LGBT community within the state of Indiana. Under the bill, any individual including a business and religious institution would not be obligated under state law to serve a customer if there is a substantial burden on their sincerely held religious beliefs.
As we saw with the Supreme court's Hobby Lobby case last year, the Supreme court ruled against the US government and told Hobby Lobby, a Christian-owned family store chain that they were not obligated under the Affordable Care Act to cover means of contraception for their employees since it went against their sincerely held religious beliefs. The reason this was not an all-together disaster is that other government programs available to Hobby Lobby employees at no extra cost would cover these specific needs without Hobby Lobby having to flip the bill. So in theory, all is "ok". But in this case, since we are dealing with being able to refuse services to an entire group of individuals based on a sincerely held religious belief, we're back in Jim Crow America, 60 years ago.
Once Governor Pence signed this bill into law, a firestorm of media and corporate backlash ensued. Chris Cuomo from CNN had an interview with Indiana Family Institute Policy Director Ryan McCann and had this to say about the issue:
As you see, Ryan McCann is unable to answer even a yes or no question, much like Governor Pence with ABC's George Stephanopoulos below:
Is it YES or NO, Governor?
Once the media firestorm kicked up on both sides of the aisle, it was not the media backlash that put the state over the edge, but the threat of the impending cancellation of the multi-Billion dollar NCAA sports event that was scheduled for the weekend to follow. Below is Keith Olberman on ESPN urging the NCAA leadership to reconsider their investment in the state here:
Once the threat of one of the most-watched sporting events in the country had threatened to "veto" the tournament in Indianapolis, things started to get serious. It took a call from Sales Force's Mark Benioff to the Governor to get the ball rolling. Not only did big business step in like Apple CEO, Tim Cook urging that 'Religious Freedom' bills are "bad for business" and "dangerous", but local and municipal leadership like Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard stepped in to take a stand:
As we all know, Indiana quickly passed a minor protection for LGBT individuals, but it wasn't close to the trouble that we had to go through to get there. Even though there will be pro-LGBT opponents who will plead their case, we still come back to the true argument that RFRA's promote discrimination. When will we learn? When will we progress and stop putting fear before intelligence?
This whole debacle is a scary and terrifying reminder that these laws are being passed more and more as we take on the fight for full equality. We are lucky to have such powerful allies who will stand up for our community, but it will take much more as we enter into this election year to fight for our full equality in the face of Religious Freedom.