Indiana Governor Mike Pence has been crushed by a media and public onslaught over the state’s new “Religious Freedom Restoration Act”, which critics say simply legalizes discrimination against Indiana’s LBGT community. The first-term Republican governor is now asking for a “legislative fix” for the bill in order to clarify that it does not allow discrimination against gays and lesbians.
“It would be helpful to move legislation this week that makes it clear that this law does not give businesses a right to deny services to anyone,” Pence said in a press conference in Indianapolis on Tuesday.
Pence’s comments come amid intense criticism from major corporations like Apple, Walmart and tech giant Salesforce against Indiana’s law and similar measures advancing in at least a dozen other states this year. In addition, companies like Angie’s List have already announced pulling expansion in the state. The NCAA, which is set to host its men’s basketball Final Four in Indianapolis, has said it could move events elsewhere in the future.
Gov. Pence says that the bill does not allow businesses to “refuse service to anyone” and if that is truly the case, then what is the point of this bill? The idea is that under this bill business owners have a right to not violate their conscience by being forced to provide services in same-sex weddings. That is not an unreasonable law. The idea that government must prevent private business owners from discrimination is a misnomer. For instance, if a wedding photographer refuses to take pictures at same-sex weddings, the market will resolve that issue without need for government intervention as another photographer will come along who specializes in same-sex weddings. It is not a matter of IF- it WILL happen.
The real problem in Indiana is that the law isn’t about freedom, because the state is just a year away from an emotional battle over a Republican-driven proposal to amend the state’s constitution to ban same-sex marriage. In that case, the state is clearly refusing freedom.
If a business owner has the right of conscience to refuse service, why do couples not have the right of conscience to marry whomever they choose? Indiana’s mistake is that lawmakers attempted to create a “freedom” law that only highlights a small amount of freedom for a narrow swath of the population and that is not freedom at all.
Instead of a Religious Freedom Bill, lawmakers could have created a Freedom of Conscience Bill. Under this bill, they could have opened the state up to allow for same-sex marriage while preserving the rights of churches, ministers and private businesses to refuse to participate. This would mean embracing freedom not for what we hope it will be but for what it is.
The problem with the liberty movement is that we embrace freedom, even if someone’s use of that freedom makes us uncomfortable. This is the center of the issue with this law. Unfortunately, Indiana lawmakers had an opportunity here to embrace freedom, even freedom that made them uncomfortable. While it makes some people uncomfortable that people of the same sex might marry, freedom allows them to make their own choice. Similarly, some people are uncomfortable that a private business owner might not want to assist in those services but freedom gives them the ability to do so.
In a free society, these people can coexist without legislation dictating their every behavior but sadly, as a society, we have become convinced that they cannot.