The big news this week is that the state of Indiana just passed a Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The passage of this act caused an avalanche of bad press for Indiana, complete with boycott’s, outraged Hollywood actors and CEO’s who vow to never visit the state again. Apparently, they are in an uproar because letting people have religious freedom opens the door for religious nuts to openly discriminate against gay people. There are a few things surrounding this media circus that I have a problem with. My opinion on the matter may make both sides mad, but I’m going to risk it.
First, when it comes to private business, the freedom of association is more important than anti-discrimination laws. Period. If you have a religious belief that gay people are immoral, white people are the devil, black people are inferior or whatever other horrific thing you claim that your religion teaches you, more power to you. You should be able to sell your products to just the people you want to sell them to and refuse to sell to anyone else. The market place will sort you out. I certainly would not patronize any place that thinks that way and I doubt the vast majority of people would either.
Second, let’s be clear, the law in Indiana is very similar to what 19 other states and the federal government has. The law is not designed to allow the open discrimination of gay people. This is almost identical to the federal law that was passed by Bill Clinton. This was also essentially similar to the RFRA passed in Illinois that then state senator Barak Obama voted in favor of. The difference that the talking heads keep referring to is that the Indiana law puts corporations and businesses into the category of “people”. The problem with placing outrage in this particular basket is that all the other laws basically do the same thing. If they didn’t before, the Hobby Lobby decision means that they are that way now. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. After reading many points of view on this, I get the feeling that the opposition the Indiana’s particular RFRA is completely based in fear, and the perception that republicans are just bigots. Had this come from a democrat governor, I doubt there would be nearly as much outrage.
Let’s move on to the public reaction and my problem with the democrats. There was a boycott called for by large corporate CEO’s, musical acts, actors and others who are jumping on the bandwagon. In theory I don’t have a problem with private call for a boycott, but I wonder how trying to hurt private business people in Indiana for decisions made by the state government makes any sense. I don’t know how boycotting, “Indiana”, can possibly make any difference. Are these people boycotting the other 19 states also? No? No good press in that I guess. Are these people outraged at the federal government and president Obama who voted for a RFRA? No? I guess when democrats do it, it’s cool. Apparently the fact that these laws have been around for the last 20 years or so and there have not been any documented cases of businesses turning away gay people just because they can makes no difference to these boycotters. I might point out that being gay 20 years ago was not nearly as cool as it is today. Here’s an idea, why don’t you wait for something to happen at a local establishment and then boycott that particular business? Crazy right!
Republicans, don’t think you’re off the hook. I applaud the attempt at restoring the right of association. I applaud the attempt to transfer a bit of the power back to the people. What I can’t understand is that with one hand you want to reduce the size of government when it comes to religious freedom, but with the other hand you try to make laws against same sex marriage. Therefore, making government bigger for gay people. Small government is small government. Freedom is freedom. You need to be consistent, even if you don’t like it. Is there any wonder why people might be suspicious of your motivation when you have a history of treating people differently? How about if there are no victims, don’t get involved? Gay marriage does not affect anyone but the two people getting married. I get that gay marriage goes against your religion, but the government is not there to enforce your religious beliefs.
The other thing I have a problem with is that the republicans absolutely will not admit that the possibility exists that a business can use this freedom to discriminate against someone, anyone. The truth is a business would be able to do that. Instead of dancing around it, the republicans could use the opportunity to explain freedom of association and why it’s not a bad thing, even if discrimination actually occurred. Which it doesn’t. How can discrimination not be a bad thing? The short answer is that it would redirect money into the correct pockets. What I mean is, if a baker refused to cater a gay wedding, for no other reason than he hates gay people, that couple would simply go to a baker that would cater the wedding. Instead of forcing the first baker to take their money, they would be giving business to someone who actually wanted it. On the flip side, if someone found a niche’ in the gay wedding market, they could refuse to cater straight weddings if they chose, strictly because they were straight. Association, people, it’s a good thing.
The bottom line is that there is nothing wrong with this law. I get why gay people would be suspicious, but the good thing about this is that they would have the exact same freedom to associate that the religious people would. I would not doubt in the least that this is a poorly written law, almost all of them are. Laws are written by people in government after all. Even if those evil, bigoted, homophobic republicans wrote this law specifically to allow the discrimination against gay people and their weddings, it still helps gay people. When power is transferred from the government to the people, even for nefarious reasons, it is good for the people. All of them. A government cannot say that some people have the freedom to associate and others don’t. Anti-discrimination laws are there so the government doesn’t treat people differently, not to force one group of private citizens to associate with another.