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Posted by on Mar 29, 2015 in Featured, Gays, Government, Law, Politics | 41 comments

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence’s Anti-Gay Discrimination Political Branding and Quagmire

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Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) is enmeshed in a political quagmire and spreading national firestorm over a state law proponents say is merely to protect “religious freedom,” but that critics — which include a growing number of prominent Americans and big corporations — says looks more like an outright anti-gay discrimination law. Calls for boycotts, cancelled slated trips and indications that some corporations will limit or end their presence in the state are growing. After initial reports suggested Pence might finesse the bill he signed and defended, he now seems to be digging in his heels.

And, in doing so, it seems like he’s going to take considerable money that his state would have had otherwise with him. The bottom line on the law is this:

This is the 21st century. Some Republican lawmakers across the country on several issues may have the votes now to shove through laws long on their agenda, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t now face some considerable push-back. Just as many in 21st century won’t look the other way if fratboys on a bus smilingly chant racist words, many in 21st century America will now clamor to extract consequences for laws that seem aimed at using partisan power to set American’s social clock back. And so we see the political agony of one Mike Pence:

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) refused to say on Sunday whether it should be illegal under state law to discriminate against gays and lesbians.

Pence appeared on ABC’s “This Week” to defend his decision to sign a controversial piece of legislation intended to protect religious liberties that critics say will enable discrimination in the state. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act would allow individuals and corporations to cite religious beliefs in private litigation. Pence’s decision to sign the bill into law has sparked backlash against the state.

In the interview, Pence dodged a question from George Stephanopoulos about whether the law would allow florists and bakers to deny their wedding services to gay couples by citing their religious beliefs. He also twice dodged a yes-or-no question on whether he believed it should be legal to discriminate against gays and lesbians under state law.

Prediction: On Monday, this will be a major subject of discussion on conservative talk radio and on conservative cable shows. It will then be framed as a crusade for religious freedom.This will be how it’ll be framed in coming days on Fox News and among some conservative pundits and bloggers. And soon support or at least defense of the Indiana law will become a litmus test for GOPers who want the party’s 2016 Presidential nomination.

Note to Mr Pence: As someone who worked in the news media for many years in the U.S. and abroad, dodging a question in a major controversy is a sure way to guarantee that the story gets more attention — and strong legs.

Pence defended his decision to sign the legislation, saying it was “absolutely not” a mistake to sign the law.

“If the general assembly in Indiana sends me a bill that adds a section that reiterates and amplifies and clarifies what the law really is and what it has been for the last 20 years, then I’m open to that,” the governor said. “But we’re — we’re not going to change this law.”

And so he threw down the gauntlet, reaffirming his loyalty to some of the constituencies that elected him to office and could perhaps propel him to higher heights in the GOP nationally. The downside: he has branded himself in a less flattering way with voters who are not gay but are more attune to 21st America. He also added one more reinforcement of the solidifying image of a Republican Party that seems exclusionary and dominated by fight-seeking talk radio political culture types, evangelicals and others who do not wish to merely conserve but take away some “givens” and protections in place in the U.S. today.

He said there has been misinformation about the law and insisted it was intended to protect religious liberty.

“This is not about discrimination,” Pence said, adding that tolerance is “a two-way street” and that there had been a lot of “shameless rhetoric” against the state law.

Here’s a sampling of reaction:
Washington Monthly:

The only information allowed inside this bubble of epistemic closure conservatives have built is that which confirms what they already believe to be true. Anything that contradicts their beliefs is written off as coming from “wicked liberal smear artists” and so, not only will it be rejected, it must be destroyed for the threat it represents.

As Sanchez points out – that creates a certain vulnerability for conservatives. What happens is that every now and then, the reality outside the bubble is simply too difficult to ignore and/or reject. We all watched as that happened to one conservative commentator after another on election night 2012. Even the Republican candidate himself was finally shaken out of his epistemic closure. Reality stepped in a provided a bitter pill for all to swallow.

But when your whole identity has been built underneath the protection of that bubble of epistemic closure, even moments like that are followed by rationalizations that attempt to repair the fabric that was torn by the intrusion of reality.

What we’re witnessing right now is that Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana is experiencing just such a breach in the bubble of his own epistemic closure. He actually believed that the people of Indiana (and the country) would hail his state’s adoption of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act because that’s what everyone inside his bubble believed.


Indiana Gov. Mike Pence seems sincerely surprised that so many people think he’s a terrible person for signing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law. At the same time, he appears to be kind of lost at sea because he thought acting like an intolerant anti-gay religious fundamentalist would be popular. This is probably partly because Governor Pence is a genuine jerk, but it’s also because he runs in almost exclusively right-wing circles and consumes almost exclusively right-wing media.

So, he’s kind of an a–hole and he surrounds himself with a–holes and he gets all his information and most of his feedback from a–holes. It’s like he’s living in a giant colon.

And then suddenly he’s forced to look outside into the light and there’s a whole world outside this colon that doesn’t approve of his values or seem at all inclined to reward him for his intolerance.

So, now he’s scrambling to repair the damage he’s caused his state but he doesn’t know how to go about it because he’s in shock and cannot believe the situation he’s created for himself.

Talking Points Memo:

There are tipping point moments in which things that were once uncontroversial or unpunished suddenly become very controversial and bring in their wake a storm of backlash. What’s most interesting is how these changes are often not incremental. They build slowly and then suddenly the terms are entirely different. It’s not surprising that something like this would eventually happen. But just why it happened in this case and in this way is less than clear.

The fact that other states have so called “religious freedom restoration acts” is at best misleading. The movement to push these laws goes back at least two decades. But until quite recently they were not specifically, almost exclusively, focused on gays and lesbians. Two things have changed. In the last eighteen months, social conservatives have recognized that they’ve lost the public battle over gay rights. Marriage equality will almost certainly be the law of the land nationwide in the near future. And the rulings that set the stage for that change will likely knock down all remaining legally sanctioned discrimination against gays and lesbians in the coming years. So social conservatives have retreated to a defensive action of accepting legally sanctioned equality but trying to create a carve out of discrimination under the guise of ‘religious liberty.’ The second thing is Hobby Lobby and that the signal that the Supreme Court will accept a concept of religious liberty far more expansive than anything seen in the past.

But we don’t need to look at RFRAs. Don’t we go through this story almost every year in which some red or reddish state pushes through some anti-gay rights law? This happens every year like spring follows winter. But this time something is different. Yes, there have been boycotts before. In Indiana itself, business groups wary of bad publicity and boycotts played a role in beating back another effort to ban same sex marriages. But here you have a flood of proactive statements by different companies saying they’ll shun the state. That seems to have created something of a rush to the exits (or entrances?) with various organizations which a few years ago likely wouldn’t have touched this kind of controversy signing themselves up for the effort.

Now Gov. Pence is reduced to lamely complaining that his and the legislatures efforts have been misunderstood or distorted.

Ann Althouse:

I’ve got to examine my own soul! I see it — e.g., here — and I know I’m avoiding it. There is something to examine. Why is Indiana getting into so much trouble over a type of law that used to be extremely popular? I guess it has something to do with Hobby Lobby and something to do with all that wedding cake business. There was a time when religionists had the ascendancy, and their pleas for relief from the burdens of generally applicable laws fell on the empathetic ears of conservatives and liberals alike.

Look at how pleased Bill Clinton was to sign what was then perceived as important civil rights legislation.

The tables have turned. And now all the liberals are remembering how much they love Antonin Scalia. I mean, not really, but to be consistent, those who are denouncing hapless Governor Mike Pence should be extolling Scalia who ushered in the era of “Religious Freedom” legislation..

Crooks and Liars:

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) on Sunday insisted that people on the Internet had conspired to create a “misunderstanding” that a so-called “religious freedom” law was about denying services to LGBT people. But at the same time, he repeatedly refused to answer if it effectively gave Christians a legal defense for discriminating against same-sex couples.

John Cole:

Mike Pence is shocked, shocked at the pushback and furor he was told would happen if he signed RFRA….You’ll note he didn’t answer the question, even when George pressed him again. He can’t answer the question, because the answer is obviously “Yes, florists can now discriminate legally against gay people.” Just ask the author of the bill…He’s stuck, and he doesn’t know what to do, so he will keep denying and deflecting while Indiana loses millions of dollars in business and travel and tourism. It is always important to remember, that when discussing Mike Pence, that he is really, really, stupid, and that Matt Yglesias nailed this fact long ago

The Guardian’s Roxane Gay:

Of course, Indiana is not alone in drafting such legislation. There are 19 other states with similar laws on the books. The ongoing fight for marriage equality and feminism are probably to blame. There are pesky people all across the country simply wanting the freedom to live their lives; they clearly must be stopped.

But let’s talk about what’s really going on here. Indiana is not protecting religious freedom. They are protecting a very specific brand of zealotry. They are protecting bigotry. Though they won’t admit it, SB 101 is a knee jerk response to marriage equality becoming law in Indiana in late 2014. In some ways, the passage of this law offers comfort. Small-minded people are more plainly revealing themselves for who and what they are.

The law sets a dangerous precedent, though. There are, for example, LGBT people who want to spend their money in Indiana, and some Indiana business owners don’t want that dirty queer money. Their warped faith guides them in this way and so be it. This bill will also allow businesses to deny women certain forms of contraception if the owners disapprove. The slope for such legislation is desperately slippery. As always, “religious freedom,” targets very specific groups of people—the groups those in power want to control or eradicate.

I live in Indiana and teach at Purdue University, a wonderful school with some of the brightest students I have ever had the privilege of working with. My colleagues are powerful and intelligent and kind. The cost of living is low, the prairie is wide and on clear nights, I can see all the stars in the sky above. I have reasonable access to two of my favorite cities, Indianapolis and Chicago. My commute is, with traffic, around six minutes. There have been some growing pains since I moved to the state but on the whole, I would have been happy to stay in Indiana for a while. Now, I want to leave.

The fiercest part of me knows I should stay and fight, but you cannot fight idiocy. You cannot fight a willful lack of common sense, a blatant disregard for decency, and a state government willing to codify discrimination under the guise of religious freedom. You cannot reason with people who don’t recognize the humanity in all of us.

US News & World Report:

All of which begs the question: why did Indiana Gov. Mike Pence just drag his state into the middle of a culture wars battle – fighting against history and clear public opinion, with billions of business dollars at stake – by making OK to discriminate against gays and lesbians?

It Came From The ‘90s: You remember Spence: he’s the guy who tried to start his own state news service, and some say he’s auditioning to join the 2016 Republican presidential field. Last year, thanks to an organized campaign, opponents defeated a same-sex marriage ban; now, they say, Spence has given them the Indiana Religious Freedom Act, a consolation prize modeled on the federal Restoration of Religious Freedom Act, a Clinton Administration law that, in general, bans the government from meddling in or interfering with religious practices or beliefs. It stems from an Oregon case of Alfred Smith, a drug and alcohol counselor who took peyote in a Native American religious ceremony but was fired for using drugs; the Supreme Court upheld the sacking, saying the state anti-drug policies took precedent. States’ rights, and all that. In reaction, a right-left Congressional coalition drafted and passed the RFRA, and President Bill Clinton signed it into law in 1993. But the law took on a new life when religious organizations used it as grounds for argument against contraception, most notably in the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court ruling last year.

Back to the Future: Although Pence signed the bill in the closet, as some Twitter wags put it, then insisted it wasn’t about discrimination but protection of religion, Peter Montgomery of the liberal People for the American Way watchdog organization said you can tell a lot by looking at Pence’s guest list, which included influential Christian evangelical leaders as well as powerful Catholic bishops. But the party also includes states like Georgia, where a similar law is pending; PFAW’s Montgomery isn’t sure exactly how many red states have passed similar laws because “the landscape is changing all the time” as they race to enact similar laws. And although Pence isn’t in the top tier of GOP presidential wannabes – at least not yet – the move helps his party shift the conversation away from an uncomfortable civil rights fight to protection of religion in culture-wartime, and could give Pence a seat at a much larger table: “These are not just fringe people, but people on the platform committee of the Republican Party,” Montgomery said.

A cross section of Tweets:

The LA Times on now some in Indiana are puzzled about the movement to boycott their state:

Criticism of new Indiana legislation as discriminatory against gays and lesbians erupted this weekend in a torrent of canceled construction, stalled convention plans and the specter of business leaving the state.

Social media focused its ire on the Indiana Statehouse after Republican Gov. Mike Pence signed into law far-reaching freedoms for religious beliefs, protecting those who say their beliefs forbid them from serving same-sex couples. It became the 20th state to pass such legislation and, for some reason, the first one with a target painted on its back for doing so.

“I don’t understand why Indiana is getting a bad reputation,” said Krissi Johnson, serving hot dogs at a community gathering inside the firehouse in Austin, southern Indiana. “It would make more sense if we were the only ones.”

Pence’s signature, delivered in a private ceremony Thursday, set off a quick series of denouncements from gay rights groups and politicians, even some Indiana Republicans, who question the fallout from the bill’s prohibition against “substantially burdening a person’s exercise of religion.”

lRelated Evangelist Bob Jones III apologizes for saying that gays should be stoned
Evangelist Bob Jones III apologizes for saying that gays should be stoned

On Saturday night, the Indianapolis Star reported that Pence was willing to support legislation to “clarify” that the law does not promote discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Calling the furor over the legislation “the deepest crisis of his political career,” the Star said Pence blamed the uproar on a “misunderstanding driven by misinformation.”

Earlier Saturday, thousands marched against the legislation in Indianapolis with signs that included “LIBERTY FOR ALL HOOSIERS.”, based in San Francisco, said it would stop sending staff to meetings in Indianapolis. Businesses began posting window stickers pledging to serve everyone.

Pence on ABC:

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