Hollow Victory: Damage Control and the Continuing Fight Against the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act

Hollow Victory

Well I think my governor may have grown tired of being a national punchline for the last week. After the protests, the boycotts, and the potential loss of millions of dollars in state revenue from conventions, concerts, and job opportunities, Governor Pence signed an amendment to SB 101, the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act”, which is designed to clarify the bill. The amendment, passed by the statehouse and signed by the governor on April 2nd, reads as follows:

“This chapter does not: (1) authorize a provider to refuse to offer or provide services, facilities, use of public accommodations, goods, employment, or housing to any member or members of the general public on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or United States military services; (2) establish a defense to a civil action or criminal prosecution for refusal by a provider to offer or provide services, facilities, use of public accommodations, goods, employment, or housing to any member or members of the general public on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or United States military Service.”

Governor Pence certainly seemed happy with himself, in a press release issued shortly after signing the amendment, he said, “Now that this is behind us, let’s move forward together with a renewed commitment to the civility and respect that make this state great.”

Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma likewise patted himself on the back, saying “We’re here to announce that it’s fixed.”

But not all of Pence’s cronies were happy, Micah Clark, head of the American Family Association of Indiana, said “Our legal advisors tell us that it actually changes our law in a way that could now erode religious freedom across Indiana.”

Clark’s statement is very telling about the original intention of the bill. Even though Governor Pence and his posse in the statehouse swore up and down that this bill had absolutely nothing to with discrimination against LGBT folks, Clark is insisting that this amendment essentially guts the bill, rendering it useless for its intended purposes. Do you have a bit of a wild card in your stacked deck, Governor? Did Clark state the truth against your better judgment?

The response from our allies has been mixed as well. Noted actor and LGBT advocate George Takei was quick to claim victory, writing on his Facebook page “I am very happy to replace ‪#‎BoycottIndiana with ‪#‎IndianaForAll, with the hope that Hoosier hospitality once again can flourish. This has been a difficult and soul-searching week for many on both sides. But from here we move forward, together, towards an inclusive society where religious beliefs and individual civil rights can exist in harmony, side by side. This is a great day for Indiana, and for the entire nation.”

But Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff didn’t appear to be so fast on going back on his promise to reduce his business in Indiana due to the law. In an interview on CNN, he told the reporter that he was looking to help employees move out of the state, saying “I just got an email on the way to studio from another employee who said, ‘look I don’t feel comfortable living in this state anymore, you have to move me out,’ and I gave him a $50,000 relocation package and said, ‘great, you’re clear to go.’”

So is this amendment the fix we needed? Does it put an end to the fight here in Indiana?

Nope; first off, while the new amendment does offer a first in Indiana history, the first time LGBT people received civil rights protection on a state level, it applies exclusively and only to this bill, only to SB 101. There are still no state-wide civil rights protections for LGBT folks on a general level.

Furthermore, while it appears to limit the potential damage, it’s not as all-encompassing as it might seem. Look at another part of the governor’s press statement issued shortly after signing the amendment, “The law also enhances protection in religious liberty cases for groups of individuals and businesses in conscience decisions that do not involve provision of goods and services, employment and housing” [bolding done by the journalist]. What does that mean? What else does a business potentially cover outside of the provision of goods and services and employment? I think there’s still something extremely fishy there.

The biggest thing with this “fix” is that if it is a victory, it feels like a hollow victory to me. It feels like a cheap shuck carnival trick, a bit of political maneuvering, nothing more. We had Governor Pence on the run, he was cancelling appearances all this week, seemingly locked in his office, pulling out his hair, screeching “Holy shit, what have I done?!” It has been rumored that Pence has his eye on the White House and it felt like we had dashed those hopes for him, crippling his political career once and for all.

And now, with a quickly signed amendment and a press conference, it seems like Pence is breathing easy for the first time in a week. He thinks the media circus is over and picketers will pack up their signs, banners, and flags and go back about their business. He thinks the newspapers and television stations will quit sticking a notebook or microphone in his face, demanding to know just what the hell he was thinking.

We could give him that. We could count this as a victory, be grateful we got the half a loaf that we did and move on. But I think that would be a fatal mistake on our part.

Look, we got the amendment to explicitly add sexual orientation and gender identity under the protected classes and it’s great that we were able to do that. But why stop there? Why just be happy that our equality applies only to this bill and not to state law as a whole? Why be happy with a little PR victory and the fact that we got Micah Clark to gnash his teeth in public when he felt he lost?

Our foot is in the door and now the ball is in our court, what are you gonna do, brothers and sisters? Are you just gonna be happy with what you got and have a cocktail over it? Or are you gonna say, “You know what? Fuck half the loaf, we’ve been getting that for too long, it’s time we got a whole loaf for once, goddamn it!”

The national press can move on to another story and the Gay Inc. groups that leeched themselves onto this cause can put out their press releases and raise a glass of champagne to their “victory” in Indiana. But this is one journalist that ain’t moving an inch, this is my home, I got my foot in the door and now I’m gonna push the door wide open.

Who amongst you is gonna stand alongside me? Who else is gonna demand nothing short of full equality in the state of Indiana and the total dismantling of RFRA?

Stand up and be counted, brothers and sisters, Indiana still needs you.

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