Just a week ago, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence was just beginning to see the momentum building against his state for passing a bill that made it safe for businesses to discriminate if they hid behind their religious beliefs. Now Indiana lawmakers are trying their best to make believe that nothing ever really happened because they “fixed” the law.
The speed with which the change took place proves that even a bad bill can lead to good results. Homophobia was always a feature of the Indiana law (and the Arkansas law), not a bug. Yet with its passage, the Indiana law led to major changes in the conversation about LGBT rights, changes that can’t be revoked.
Here are five ways that the landscape is now changed thanks to the bad motives of Indiana legislators…
1. Nondiscrimination protections are now the floor, not the ceiling. Getting a nondiscrimination bill passed in a state like Indiana was always an uphill battle. Now it’s a given in the media and the national conversation that the lack of workplace and housing protections is considered an oversight at minimum and more likely a scandal. There’s no need to justify the need for protections. It’s the absence of them that needs justification.
2. Even homophobes have to prove they aren’t discriminating. That’s why Indiana Republicans had to insert language (absurd as it may be) that explicitly states that the religious freedom law can’t be used to deny services. It’s a subtle, but major shift: the need to swear you never intended to discriminate against LGBT citizens. In the past, no one would have felt obliged to say as much, even as lip service. (Of course, let’s not forget that discrimination was the whole point of the bill in the first place.)
3. The “special rights” rhetoric is dead. For the longest time, granting the LGBT any kind of protection was termed “special rights.” No one used that rhetoric this time around. If anything, the Indiana law looked suspiciously like special rights for the religious right–which, of course, it was.
4. North Dakota (!). Just to prove how much the landscape changed in just a week, North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple felt the need to send a memo to state offices saying that government discrimination against anyone is illegal. Dalrymple is trying to hold back a push by Democrats for an executive order specific to protecting the LGBT community. It’s impossible to imagine having that debate in North Dakota just a few weeks ago.
5. Big business has spoken with one voice. Apple, Wal-Mart, Salesforce, Angie’s List, Lilly, Cummins–the array of corporations that came out against the Indiana law and for nondiscrimination protections proved once and for all that big business is firmly in favor of LGBT rights. More to the point, they are willing to put political muscle behind it and fight the GOP, even though they are often allied with the party on economic issues.
You can argue of course that it’s all about image and protecting themselves against financial fallout, but corporations don’t throw their political weight around lightly. It’s one thing to sign a letter in favor of marriage equality. It’s another to lean on a political ally in advance, the way Wal-Mart did with Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchison.
We’ll be feeling the ripple effect of the Indiana law for a long time. It’s certainly going to be an issue in the 2016 GOP presidential campaign, as conservative evangelicals press candidates to swear their allegiance to religious liberty exemptions. But one thing is for certain. It’s not going to be the same conversation we were having before the Indiana law passed.
Photo credit: Michael Downey