Tuesday, March 31, 2015

About Indiana

It's not really about Indiana.

Sure, you could already legally discriminate against gay people in most places in Indiana before the Indiana RFRA passed, just like you can in most places in the United States. But that's kind of the point. The purpose behind RFRA in Indiana was partly to overrule the anti-discrimination laws in the few places in the state that might have had a local ordinance that barred discrimination against gay people, but mostly to make a statement that Indiana is standing up against the gay agenda, or whatever they call it these days. That statute was always as much about politics as it was about any substantive changes in the law. The fact that, practically speaking, you could say there was a "license to discriminate" both before and after its passage, indicates that this battle is a battle over symbols.

A battle over symbols is a great battle to have because the Republicans are getting their asses handed to them. They are getting their asses handed to them because one important thing had changed: it is now bad for business to be considered anti-gay. That is undermining the political alliance that is the basis of the modern Republican party.

For the past few decades the GOP has been a coalition of religious conservatives and big business. The business types wanted regulations that were friendlier to their industry (often mis-labeled as "less regulation" because actually they were perfectly happy with regulations that subsidize businesses). The business types would get into office with the votes of religious conservatives by campaigning on "social issues", which is a euphemism for gays and abortion, and also sometimes a few other things like evolution and birth control. Then once in power they could start gutting regulations and cutting taxes for wealthy people, they stuff they really care about. Of course, they also have to pass some stuff to appease the social issue crowd, and that is exactly where the Indiana RFRA comes in.

Not long ago, the business community would not have cared if a state passed a law intended to promote discrimination against gay people. At best it was too controversial for them to touch. At worst, they didn't think it was controversial to hate gays but they did have a sense that their customers would find anything related to gay people to be icky. For pro-business conservative gay issues were a politically safe bone to toss to their social conservative base.

What has happened in Indiana in the past week shows that does not work anymore. The business community is no longer trying to keep out of gay issues. They now recognize the change in the country's mood about gay issues and that anti-gay discrimination is now viewed by a lot of Americans to be like other kinds of unacceptable discrimination (like racial discrimination). In other words, discriminating against gays is now stigmatized, and big business wants no part of that stigma. In fact, there is now a P.R. benefit to jumping on the anti-discrimination band wagon.

I think that's why Governor Pence was caught so completely off guard by the controversy over his RFRA law. Not that long ago, passing that law would have been a safe thing to do. It would excite a certain segment of the voters who are motivated by gay bashing, and only piss off people he does not care about (people like me). But now it pisses off people who he does care about. Or rather, it pisses off enough people that the big business he cares about are not willing to let him have his gay bashing sop to the social conservatives anymore.