Hoosier Homophobia: The Latest Chapter in the Book of Intolerance

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

So reads the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, the principles upon which my country is built that transcend the paper they were written on over 200 years ago. Like most American citizens, I have a tremendous respect for the wisdom of the words that comprise our country’s core values even if they are a little archaic by today’s standards, leading to constant debates about what precisely the well-respected founding fathers meant. Regardless, we all know that this country was founded upon freedom, and this most important right of life is equally due to everyone and cannot be inhibited by the government. At least that’s how it’s supposed to go…

This past week the state that is the western neighbor of mine made the news for more than the excitement for this weekend’s upcoming men’s basketball Final Four. Indiana governor Mike Pence signed into effect a Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) law called Indiana SB 101 and has pretty much only caught hell for it since. While supporters claim it is only set up to uphold religious freedom and rights, it has been fiercely criticized for being an attack on the rights of the LGBT and sometimes Q community (that’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and occasionally also Questioning).

According to Governor Pence, Indiana, like other states before it, is not directly taking away freedoms from homosexual individuals but granting them to anyone whose religious practices are infringed upon by the government. Unfortunately, whether Pence and Indiana’s lawmakers intended it or not, this kind of law is the ammunition for religious and conservative groups who want to prevent gay marriage from becoming legal across the country. The original Religious Freedom Restoration Act is a federal law put in place back in 1993 to prevent religious freedom from being burdened by laws put forth by the government. While it applies to all practicing religions that are recognized by the United States, it came about primarily in reaction to the mistreatment of Native Americans and their reserved land. The RFRA protected places and culture – specifically the use of peyote in Oregon –  considered sacred by Native Americans. The federal RFRA was unanimously passed by the House of Representatives and only had three senators oppose it in the Senate. It was signed into effect on November 16, 1993 by President Bill Clinton. You know, that guy who’s wife is super angry at the Indiana RFRA. So what’s the difference between the two?

The easiest answer is that the federal RFRA is a federal law and the Indiana SB 101 RFRA is a state law, and not the first state RFRA. It was determined by the US Supreme Court in 1997 that the federal RFRA cannot overrule a state decision in accordance with the state’s own laws. That started when a pastor wanted to build a new church in Texas but the demolition of the old church building was shut down because it was recognized as a historic landmark. He appealed to the federal RFRA, but Congress felt it couldn’t interfere lest it overreach its enforcement power in accordance with the Fourteenth Amendment (Due Process; Equal Protection). Thus, each state can draft its own RFRA as it sees fit and that’s what Indiana, like others before it, has done.

Comparatively, here is a map of each state’s legal stance on same-sex marriage.

So what the fuck does Indiana’s new law say that has brought on all this backlash? That’s a good question, reader! If you think this post is less entertaining than usual then read the actual text of the legislation, then rest assured that I don’t write in such a way and that you’ll find a song at the end of this. Essentially, SB 101 grants citizens and corporations the right to have less restrictions from the government to practice their religious customs. Sounds okay until you consider how certain people and organizations will abuse the openness of the law to turn away others who violate their religious customs, specifically members of the LGBT(Q) community for being LGBT or Q. So businesses can be like the surly bartender in the Mos Eisley Cantina (actually named Chalmun’s Cantina) and say, “We don’t serve their kind here.”

In reaction to this new legislation, some national and international business have decided to cease doing business in Indiana. This shunning is not good for Indiana economically, and it is ironic that a law which permits businesses in the state to refuse service to others is causing them to be refused service.

I agree that Indiana SB 101 is “ill-conceived legislation at best” as was said by James Danko, the president of Butler University, which is located in the state capital of Indianapolis. He also stated, “No matter your opinion of the law, it is hard to argue with the fact it has done significant damage to our state.” It may please a part of the population who are more firmly rooted in the various traditions of their faiths that forbid same-sex union, but it certainly is not sitting pretty with the growing majority of people in the United States. In addition to the economic issues Indiana is now experiencing, they have taken a massive hit in public relations which is problematic because there aren’t too many people flocking to Indiana over the likes of its Midwestern neighbors, let alone places like New York and California. I’m not saying that Indiana doesn’t have anything to offer for people from outside the state; Indianapolis alone is blooming metropolis, although it is kind of an urban oasis in a predominantly agricultural state (I feel your pain Indiana), but there are plenty of opportunities for outdoor activities, and you can always grab a timeshare in Muncie like Jerry/Larry/Terry Gergich. Nevertheless, Indiana is not pulling in enough visitors to be able to afford to turn away those who don’t fear whichever desired God enough.

Tim Cook, CEO of Apple Inc., wrote an article that appears in today’s Washington Post Opinion page in which he expresses his similar disappointment in such laws and condemns them as discriminatory. I believe that his conclusion is true and very much summarizes how I feel on this issue, so I’m going to shamelessly steal it since it’s more resounding than whatever I could say considering I don’t sell iPads:

“This isn’t a political issue. It isn’t a religious issue. This is about how we treat each other as human beings. Opposing discrimination takes courage. With the lives and dignity of so many people at stake, it’s time for all of us to be courageous.”

Here, here! Let’s celebrate the equality we all deserve and that is protected for us here in America under the First and all following amendments.

I have an amendment of my own to make to a previous post that I will eventually expand into a Round 2, yet I think this just can’t until I publish that. My last post of last year was a list of songs I feel everyone should listen to to gain perspective and lead a better life, It may have been encyclopedic, but it was certainly not comprehensive, and for that I apologize to many whom I hope to make it up to with the future sequel post, especially Adam Scott Aukerman and the lovable lads from Liverpool they love to talk to us. Here I offer a preview with the lead-off song of the someday soon-ish list of more must-hear songs: “One” by U2, a gentle yet powerful ballad of looking beyond disagreement and embracing our differences to live more harmoniously. Bono may have written it about the band’s near break-up, but they and their fans have since applied it to many situations that threaten social justice for all, and it definitely works in the context of this latest bout of intolerance.

Thanks for reading! Remember to keep an open mind regarding others and be nice to them no matter how you feel about their sexual orientation or religious beliefs. No matter who you are, you’re always welcome here and I hope you come back next week to read another post!

Thanks to teachers of America, the authors of the 1st Amendment, and all MSTies coast-to-coast,

Alex

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