Support LGBT Rights: Why the Fight over Indiana’s RFRA Is Important to non-Indianans
Since Indiana Governor Mike Pence (R) signed into law the Indiana Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (RFRA for short), there has been a firestorm of controversy. Those on the right don’t seem to understand why people are so upset, while those on the left can’t understand why those on the right are so clueless (yes, I’m being polite in my characterization).
So I thought I’d try to break it down for you all as to why I, personally, believe the fight over Indiana’s RFRA bill is so very, very important for everyone.
It’s simple, folks: LGBT rights matter. And the RFRA that the Indiana Legislature passed not only grants individuals and businesses the right to deny anyone anything under the law unless there is a specific reason in the governmental interest as to why the individuals or businesses shouldn’t do it. But gender discrimination apparently isn’t in the “governmental interest.”
What does that mean, exactly? In not-so-veiled language, it means the RFRA as passed by the state of Indiana didn’t give any protection whatsoever to same-sex couples or transgendered individuals. So if you happen to be gay, and you walk into a pizza parlor with your boyfriend in Indiana, you could be denied service with no repercussions (other than most of the rest of the neighborhood shunning you for your utter stupidity, of course).
The reason that business leaders in Indiana, including the Chamber of Commerce and the NCAA (headquartered in Indianapolis), were against the RFRA is because it will keep business away from Indiana. Most people believe that LGBT people are people like anyone else and should be allowed to love whomever they please without anyone giving them problems over it. And the businesses are aware of this.
Or to put it in even plainer terms than this: Refusing to serve anyone anything for any reason in Indiana (or anywhere else) is bad for business. Period.
It’s a sad day when it takes businesses and corporate leaders to tell politicians that something is a bad move for their state. But in this case, their ruthless pragmatism happens to match the growing sentiment that LGBT rights are of profound importance. Most people have at least one LGBT relative or friend. Some, like me, have more than one (I have several, including a transgendered cousin; in addition, my late brother-in-law was gay). And none of them — not one — should be denied service simply because of who they love.
Much less exalting such discrimination under the guise of “religious freedom.”
But I’d rather go back to ruthless pragmatism, here. I want you to consider this from a business perspective. If you are allowed, as a businessperson, to discriminate on the basis of gender, does that mean if I go into a business with my sister, you’re going to deny me service? Or if I go into a restaurant with a friend who’s a retired nun, you’re going to deny me service?
How can you tell what my gender is just because I walk into a restaurant with another woman?
By the way, if my brother goes into a restaurant with a friend who happens to be a Catholic priest (but isn’t wearing his clerical collar), are you’re going to deny him service, too?
Let’s get real. There’s no reason for any business to deny any of us — straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, or Martian — service. Not if that business wants to make a profit. And the businesses know this if they’re smart. Which is why most of them have come out firmly against the RFRA.
I’ve had some friends on the right tell me that much of the hoopla over the RFRA is overblown. There are legitimate religious liberty concerns. There needs to be a way for someone who’s Muslim and wearing a headscarf to not be denied service because of her religion. And there needs to be a way for a Sikh child to not be prevented from wearing his religious dagger (blunted) next to his body when he goes to the public school.
But Indiana’s version of the RFRA goes way too far. It doesn’t just protect people of faith from being able to safely and freely partake in their religion. Instead, it looks as if it’s meant to discriminate against certain classes of people, most especially the LGBT community, on the basis of gender identity alone. And whether it actually will allow discrimination under the law is now irrelevant, as the perception has grown so large that it will that it’s become well-nigh irrefutable.
Or in even plainer, starker language: The belief is that it will hurt LGBT people because it’s OK under the law to do so. Which has de facto created a second-class citizen approach for the LGBT community, or anyone believed to be a part of that community…and that is deeply destructive to the social covenant, at absolute best.
And that, my friends, is why this RFRA is so divisive. It hurts my LGBT friends and family members just by its existence.
And that’s why so many are protesting Indiana’s RFRA.
But it’s law in the state of Indiana, at least for now. Which is why so many people across the United States are vowing not to spend one dime in Indiana until this law is either fixed or repealed.
How any politician can’t understand that’s exactly what would happen before he signed a controversial bill like this into law, as Gov. Pence did last Friday, is beyond my comprehension.
* * * Edited to add:
As of this hour (5:30 a.m. CDT), according to the Indiana Star, a revised version of the RFRA has been drafted. The Star says:
The compromise legislation specifies that the new religious freedom law cannot be used as a legal defense to discriminate against patrons based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The proposal goes much further than a “preamble” that was proposed earlier in the week, and, if it stands, would be the first time any protections against discrimination have been extended to gays and lesbians in state law. But it doesn’t go as far as establishing gays and lesbians as a protected class of citizens statewide or repealing the law outright, both things that Republican leaders have said they could not support.
So it’s one tiny step forward. But it’s not likely, as the Star says elsewhere in its article, to make anyone happy on the left or the right, and more battles loom over LGBT rights in the not-so-distant future in the state of Indiana.