Indiana Governor Mike Pence has really done it this time.
The IRFRA was a bill intended to please his base constituency, the religious right, a powerful force in the state of Indiana. Recently, the state had been told that denying marriage rights to homosexual couples was unconstitutional, and Indiana joined the growing number of states in which marriage equality became the law of the land.
For many Christians (I will be the first to say, not all), this was a slap in the face. A small subset of these upset Christians decided to make sure that the slap to the cheek they received would not go unanswered.
Let’s talk about, for example, Curt Smith. He is in the picture of Pence signing SB101 into law, standing in the far back. In one photo, he is looking over the heads of the two men in front of him.
He’s the president of the Indiana Family Institute. He equates homosexuality with bestiality and adultery:
The Judeo-Christian worldview at the heart of Western culture and so our legal and governmental systems (Ten Commandments, an “eye for an eye,” the very concepts of mercy, justice and rehabilitation) promotes marriage and family while decrying other modes of sexuality — homosexuality, bestiality, adultery, etc.
He helped write the bill. This is the kind of person Pence was working with to pass the bill. Here’s a closer look.
The point is that Pence was working with and for these supporters, and believed he was working in the interest of the religious of the state of Indiana. It is clear he was not expecting the backlash he has received, nor did he foresee the financial implications of the decision to pass the bill into law.
What’s a governor to do?
Well, he cannot just let it ride, that’s for sure. Indiana has worked hard to not be the butt of jokes like the ones made in the era of Cheers. Thankfully, the work we have done has not been completely destroyed by this. Many of the jokes have been made about Pence and discriminatory businesses (Kudos to Saturday Night Live for not attacking the entire state!). The financial damage could range up into the billions, unless quick and effective damage control is done.
I’m sure he would like to stick by his guns, believing himself to be a martyr for the fight against homosexuality; he will find himself very quickly abandoned by everyone but the hardliners when businesses begin to suffer from bad press and boycotts. When the power of civil rights law stood behind gay couples, discrimination was rare. Now that Indiana businesses think they have a license to discriminate, a lot more people are going to come out of the woodwork on both sides.
So, what are his options?
- Try to “fix” the law. Do a good job, one that actually does protect everyone, and piss off those select few who wrote the bill, but calm the people down. Do a bad job, and end up no better than having done nothing.
- Work to repeal the law. Probably the best solution, and the one he is least likely to choose. It would take admitting he was wrong, which would be throwing himself under the bus. It might even save his political career. Heck, he could even move further ahead. Is it likely? Probably not. His current power brokers would abandon him. But the people might rally behind him.
- Punt to the next governor. He might be run out of the state on a rail, with some of the residents of Indiana chasing behind with a bucket of tar and a bag of feathers, but it would be one for the history books.
- Do nothing. Possible be recalled, possibly lose the next election, who knows what else could happen? This could be the start of a very dark chapter in Indiana history. This is most likely what he will do. He strikes me as coming from the George W. Bush School of Not Changing Horses.
It is unfortunate that we may have to wait until the next election cycle to fix this mess.