More accurately, as a friend posted on Facebook, “Karma’s only a bitch if you are.” Either way, the ignominious conclusion of the Christian Right’s spiteful effort to send a message to the LGBT community is what we professors call “a teachable moment.”
Let’s recap: Eric Miller of Advance America, Micah Clark of the American Family Association of Indiana, and Curt Smith of the Indiana Family Institute were smarting from their losses in the same-sex marriage debate. They wanted a win for their constituencies (to whom, not so incidentally, their constant fundraising efforts are directed), and prevailed upon their ideological allies in the Indiana legislature to introduce a vague and expanded, post Hobby Lobby version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. They were confident that Governor Pence, a longtime culture warrior, would sign it.
RFRA was unlikely to have much effect in rural Indiana, where discrimination against LGBT folks was still entirely legal anyway. And although the legislation raised some troubling questions, most lawyers predicted that it would not trump LGBT civil rights in cities where those rights were protected by ordinance.
But the real purpose of the legislation wasn’t legal, it was political.
The bill was intended to send a message: to tell gay folks that despite their marriage victory, they remain unwelcome, and (by “protecting” good Christians against further “victimization” by the nefarious “gay agenda”) to reassure their credulous members they were worth the dollars they’ve been extracting from them.
That message was received and (unlike both RFRA and the First Amendment) understood.I’ve already posted about the immense and damaging blowback it generated.
Yesterday, the Governor and legislative culture warriors capitulated, amending the law to provide that “religious liberty” cannot be used as a defense when a business or other “provider” discriminates on a laundry list of bases–including sexual orientation and gender identity.
This is the first time in Indiana history that LGBT folks have been explicitly protected by state law. It isn’t quite the same as inclusion in the state civil rights law, but it’s close; after all, virtually all discrimination against LGBT folks is justified by citation to religious belief. If that is no longer a sufficient reason, it’s hard to think what is.
And that gets us back to (very satisfying) karma. Eric Miller, Micah Clark and Curt Smith deliberately set out to inflict gratuitous harm on a marginalized minority. Because they thought they could. Because it would be good for fundraising. Because it would salve their wounded egos. Because they have never understood the fundamental decency of most Hoosiers.
Instead–and as a direct result– gay rights in Indiana have advanced substantially. In addition to the new language in the Indiana Code, a broad coalition has formed to work for inclusion of sexual orientation in state civil rights laws. Businesses throughout Indiana are displaying “We Serve Everyone” signs. And the presumed political power of these smarmy culture warriors has been shown to be largely mythical (can we all say “the emperor has no clothes?)
Karma is so gratifying.