The Breathtaking Cowardice of Indiana Governor Mike Pence

I am a Hoosier. I was born in Indianapolis, I did my undergrad at Indiana University, and I’ve lived in the state of Indiana for most of my 31 years on this planet. When the news first started trickling out about SB101, Indiana’s version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, I was dismayed that such blatantly discriminatory legislation would be considered, much less had a chance in passing. Then it was passed, and I felt genuinely ashamed of the state from whence I came. Then I watched Indiana Governor Mike Pence struggle through a softball interview with George Stephanopoulos, and I realized I could stay silent no longer.

Before we get to the part where I start referring to Indiana Governor Mike Pence as Governor Fuckstick, let’s take it back just a bit and talk about the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) as a general concept.

The original purpose of legislation such as the RFRA was to prevent the government from interfering with the free exercise of religion wherein the practices of that religion may conflict with federal law. The most commonly used example is the use of peyote in certain Native American rituals. The problem is that in 1997, the Supreme Court ruled that the Federal RFRA could be inapplicable against state and local laws, resulting in 19 other states passing RFRA-like legislation (Indiana is #20).

So, if a bunch of other states and the Federal government have passed RFRA-type legislation, then why all the hubbub about the version that the Indiana legislature passed? Well, the Indiana version contains two additional provisions and lacks a key additional provision that the other RFRAs have.

The first addition is that SB101 (the Indiana RFRA) allows any for-profit business to assert a right to the free exercise of religion. This is a byproduct of the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision, wherein businesses are now legally people with rights but no responsibilities. This provision doesn’t exist in any other version of the RFRA except South Carolina’s.

The second addition is that SB101 contains a provision that allows a person to claim protection under this law even if the state or another governmental entity is not a party to the proceedings. This provision doesn’t exist in any version of the RFRA except Texas’.

Now, to compound the issues these two provisions present, sexual orientation is not a protected class in the state of Indiana, which is what’s driving the controversy. If sexual orientation were protected the same way as age, race, religion, gender, etc. were, this wouldn’t be a big deal.

The end result here is that SB101 is a rather nasty piece of work that allows businesses to discriminate against customers if their lifestyle conflicts with the businesses’ religious beliefs, assuming that the discrimination is not done toward a protected class, of which sexual orientation is not.

The common argument for SB101 is that “discrimination is already illegal.” Yes, but only to a certain extent. Discrimination is illegal on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability, age, ancestry, off-duty tobacco use, or sealed/expunged arrest or conviction record. If you’re a die-hard Star Trek fan and you hate Doctor Who with a burning passion, you can refuse service to someone on the basis of them wearing a TARDIS t-shirt into your business. If you’ve been shipping Mulder and Scully since 1998 and Robert Patrick walks in to your store, you can legally deny him service for playing Agent John Doggett. And under SB101, if you happen to be a conservative Christian florist, photographer, or baker, you can legally deny service to a gay couple for their wedding.

So, now that we’ve talked about what SB101 is and why it’s awful, now we can get to the part where I refer to the sitting governor of my home state as Governor Fuckstick.

It would be one thing if Governor Fuckstick had just come out and said “The purpose of this legislation is to prevent business owners from being forced to provide services to ceremonies that they have a strongly religious opposition toward, such as a gay wedding or commitment ceremony.” at which point everyone would have gone “Well, that’s fucked up.” and the bill would have been taken out behind the legislative woodshed and been granted a merciful death. Instead he and the Indiana GOP couched it in terms like “religious freedom”, because if you ask them conservative Christians are the most discriminated against group in America.

When it comes to the GOP, social conservatives play a distant second fiddle to business interests, which is what makes the case of SB101 particularly interesting. Companies like Angie’s List and Salesforce came out before the bill was passed and said in no uncertain terms that passing SB101 would result in them reevaluating their plans for expansion in the state of Indiana. GenCon, a tabletop gaming convention generating $50 million annually for local businesses, has threatened to leave the state. The Disciples of Christ have also stated their intent to find another hosting city that is “hospitable and welcome to all of our attendees”. Indianapolis Mayor Gregory Ballard, a Republican, came out against the bill citing the potential for harming the capitol city’s convention prospects. After passage, the Cities of San Francisco and Seattle banned official travel to the state of Indiana. The NBA, the Indiana Pacers, and the NCAA have all expressed opposition to the law, with the last being the most significant due to the presence of NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis and the Final Four being a major draw for the city.

In perhaps the most telling aspect of the law’s origins and intentions, Governor Fuckstick signed SB101 into law in a private ceremony surrounded by conservative religious figures and anti-gay activists.

So here we have a law that is almost assuredly going to be challenged in court and probably overturned, written by hardcore social conservatives that is actively harming businesses in the state of Indiana, and Governor Fuckstick seems hellbent on attempting to defend this monstrous reminder of the days when it was legal to discriminate against someone for who they are. It doesn’t make any sense, unless you consider something else: Governor Fuckstick wants to be President Fuckstick, and he thinks this is the best way to shore up his right flank against anyone that would dare call him anything less than a true conservative, the spirit of Ronald Reagan reincarnate. The problem with that is that while legislation like this might play in the rural areas of Indiana that are basically Kentucky, this doesn’t fly in places like Indianapolis or any other major city, which is what you have to win to actually, you know, be President.

In the midst of all this ugliness, there are rays of sunshine. Many local businesses are putting stickers and signs in their windows that state that they’re welcome to everyone. SB101 could give Indiana Democrats something to rally around and drive up turnout in the next election cycle. This is important, because Governor Fuckstick won his last election with a plurality (49.6%) rather than a majority in the lowest turnout election in Indiana history. And, as always, there’s the strong possibility this gets challenged in court and thrown onto the scrapheap of history where it belongs. For the time being, if you travel to the state of Indiana, look for businesses that support equality and patronize them. Make sure that local business owners know that there’s money to be made being on the right side of history. Also, if you see Governor Fuckstick out and about, do me a solid and spit on his shoes.

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