Category Archives: Gay Rights

PR Advice from an Expert

A good friend of mine used to run one of Indiana’s premiere public relations firms. So naturally, when the news broke that state agencies had hired a national PR powerhouse (for $2,000,000!) to begin repairing the damage done to the state’s economy and reputation by those responsible for the RFRA debacle, I asked him for his thoughts.

His response:

As an Indiana PR professional, I will fix Indiana’s problem for free in three simple steps:
1. Pass a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity — along with sex, race, religion, etc.
2. Have an articulate Indiana spokesperson appear on “This Week” with George Stephanopoulos.
3. When George asks “A final question, a final yes-or-no question: Do you think it should be legal in the state of Indiana to discriminate against gays or lesbians?” answer: “No, George, it should not be legal and it is not legal in the state of Indiana.”

PR problem solved. No expense required.
You’re welcome.

In other words, our mothers were right: Actions speak louder than words. (People will judge you by your behavior.) Think before you speak. (You won’t get into these situations if you think about what you are about to say or do before you say or do it.) Treat others as you would like to be treated. (You won’t regret acting like a nice person instead of a jerk.)

After all, as Matt Tully noted in a column making much the same observations as my friend, there’s a limit to what spin alone can accomplish.

Okay, So Here’s My Final Question..

You would think that everything that could possibly be said about “religious freedom” in Indiana has now been said, written or mocked, and that it is past time for this blog to move on…but I do have one more question, and it hasn’t been asked or answered. At least, not that I’ve seen.

Let’s say I own a bakery, and Mrs. Unpleasant comes in and asks me to bake a cake for her DAR meeting. She’s one of those customers who always complains about something and is never satisfied, and I don’t want her business. Do I say: “Listen, you shrew, I don’t cater to impossible biddies, go somewhere else”? Of course not–at least, not if I have any brain cells. She’d bad-mouth my bakery all over town. Instead, I say “Gee, I’d love to, but I am so backed up with orders, I can’t squeeze this in.” Or “Darn! I have to wash my hair this week and won’t have time.” Or something.

So–this time, it isn’t Mrs. Harridan with the megaphone, it’s Adam and Steve, and they want a wedding cake. Wouldn’t I use the same sort of excuse? I mean, who is compelling  bakery/flower shop owners to declaim “Oh no, my Lord has commanded that I not participate in your sinful nuptials!”

Who’d know what my real motive is? Adam and Steve might suspect, but as any lawyer will confirm, suspicion isn’t evidence.

This leads me to think that  what these “godly” folks really want isn’t just the right to refrain from participating; they want the right to scorn and humiliate any hapless LGBT folks who might be unwary enough to try patronizing their establishments.

They don’t just want the right to “opt out” of baking that cake or making that bouquet; they want to be able to advertise their superior “godliness” without worrying about some silly legal commitment to equality or civility.

 

 

Karma’s a Bitch

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.

 

 

Cakes, Pork Chops and SB 101

Okay, this is sufficiently annoying that it justifies an “extra” post.

Defenders of SB 101 keep talking about the baker’s right to refuse to bake a cake with a swastika or the Muslim or Kosher butcher who the law “protects” from having to handle pork.

Excuse my french, but this is bull****.

If I go into a menswear shop and ask for a dress, am I being discriminated against when I’m informed the store doesn’t sell women’s clothes? Of course not.

Civil rights protections don’t require the baker who doesn’t bake swastika cakes, or the butcher who never sells pork to do so. Civil rights laws do keep the baker from refusing to sell the cakes he does make to “certain people” (And yes, that means that he has to sell the cakes he does make to the skinhead who comes into his shop, provided the skinhead is behaving himself and has money with which to make the purchase.)

The kosher butcher doesn’t have to carry pork, but he does have to sell his kosher chickens and beef to Muslim or Christian or even anti-Semitic customers, again, so long as those customers can pay and are abiding by the generally applicable rules of the shop.

Clear?

 

Sending a Message–Updated

Back in 2000, I wrote a column for the Indiana Word about the use of legislation to “send a message.” Following passage of the so-called “Religious Freedom” bill, it seemed appropriate to revisit the points raised.

After all, hateful Hoosiers who want to discriminate against their LGBT neighbors can already do so with impunity–Indiana’s civil rights laws do not protect gay citizens. Same-sex marriages may be legal in Indiana, but gay Hoosiers can still be denied services, refused employment and/or fired just for being gay. So to the extent that SB 101 is aimed at permitting discrimination against members of the gay community, it’s totally unnecessary. Unless, of course, our lawmakers want to “send a message.”

As I pointed out back in 2000:

With all due respect to all the folks who want to use the General Assembly instead of Western Union, such an approach to lawmaking is wrongheaded and dangerous for a number of reasons.

1.) It trivializes the law. When the legislature passed measures to criminalize private sexual behavior, for example, no one seriously believed that the local constable was going to come into every bedroom to check for violations. Such measures were justified because they “sent a message.” And indeed they do, which brings us to the next problem. See Paragraph 2.

2.) Such laws send different messages to different people. Before they were struck down, sodomy laws “sent a message” to gays that they are second-class citizens. Laws making women submit to multiple “counseling sessions” or vaginal probes in order to obtain abortions signal legislative contempt for women, not respect for life. See Paragraph 3.

3.) They promote pandering. When lawmakers know perfectly well that they are engaging in a meaningless gesture, the urge to satisfy extremist constituencies can easily be justified; after all, where’s the harm?  Indiana, like many states, passed the Defense of Marriage Act to “send a message” that satisfied the Christian Right; lawmakers defended their actions to rational folks by pointing out, quite correctly, that the law hurt no one, because at the time there was no gay marriage to refuse to recognize. It was a model example of “Law as an Empty Gesture.” Of course, to gay citizens, it sent a different message. See paragraph two.

4.) “Messages” inconsistent with Constitutional values distort the balance of power in our legal system. When this original column was written, in 2000, lawmakers had just authorized posting the Ten Commandments in public buildings. Of course, that was patently unconstitutional, and lawmakers knew it. When I asked a State Representative why he and others were voting for a measure they knew would be struck down, his answer was candid: “We all have to go back and justify ourselves to the voters in Mayberry. Let the Courts take the heat.”

When lawmakers engage in this sort of unethical game playing, it feeds hostility to the judicial system, which must protect individual rights by voiding such improper and cynical measures. That hostility further erodes respect for law, and that brings us full circle. See Paragraph 1.

In the case of SB 101, we might add another likely consequence: although the measure doesn’t change Indiana laws that apply to gay folks, it may well encourage “religious” refusals to serve or employ Muslims or blacks or other Hoosiers who currently are protected under the state civil rights laws. It will almost certainly spawn expensive litigation. And it seems likely to cost Indianapolis (whose citizens by and large opposed the measure) several conventions and the economic benefits that those conventions bring.

Because the General Assembly did, indeed, “send a message.” And a lot of people received it.