Category Archives: Gay Rights

Civil Rights and the Religious Right

Yesterday at the Indiana statehouse, hearings were held on three bills taking different approaches to GLBT civil rights. None of those bills as originally written actually extended civil rights protections to the gay community—at their best (which wasn’t particularly good), they were efforts to look like the state is protecting the rights of LGBT Hoosiers without actually doing so— efforts to avoid the wrath of both a business community that supports real civil rights protections, and the Christian Right, which most definitely does not.

Of course, some of our legislators aren’t even pretending.

When I went to bed last night (we’re old and I go to bed early), the worst of the measures, a bill that had been dubbed “super RFRA,” was dead (at least for the moment), and a hearing on the others was still going on. This morning, I learned that SB344–which will now move to the Senate floor, would repeal RFRA and replace it with”protections” neutered by religious exemptions.

Genuine extension of civil rights to the LGBT community would be simple: four words and a comma added to the Indiana law that currently protects people from being discriminated against on the basis of race, religion, gender, and national origin. (Interestingly, there aren’t religious exemptions to those categories: if your religion preaches separation of the races or subordination of women, tough. You still can’t fire black people or refuse to serve women.)The convoluted measure that emerged is pretty strong evidence that Indiana legislators really don’t want gays and lesbians (and definitely not transgender Hoosiers) to be treated as citizens entitled to equal treatment.

These legislators are in thrall to the diminishing number of fundamentalist religious activists who want to be able to pick on gay people without worrying about some law requiring owners of public accommodations to actually accommodate all members of the public.

Ironically, all these howls of religious righteousness, all this deference to the delicate religious sensibilities of Christian literalists, is taking place at the same time that leaders of those groups are displaying the highly selective nature of their religiosity. Yesterday, Jerry Falwell, Jr.—one of those who finds homosexuality to be an “abomination”— endorsed Donald Trump for President.

So let me get this straight (pun intended). Gay people—even the most exemplary gay people in long-term, loving relationships—are sinners not to be accorded civic equality or human dignity. But a three-time married megalomaniac who has repeatedly used bankruptcy laws to screw over his creditors, who has flaunted his sex life in the tabloids, who has separated poor people from their money in his casinos, lies constantly and has repeatedly exhibited the crudest racism, sexism and xenophobia—that man is entitled to your “Christian” approval and endorsement.

If there was ever any doubt, Falwell’s endorsement makes one thing clear: This pious insistence that religious objectors should be accorded “special rights” to discriminate isn’t theology. It isn’t based upon their (selective and convenient) reading of their bibles.

It’s bigotry. And our lawmakers should not accommodate it.



The More Things Change

The battle at the Indiana Statehouse over adding “four words and a comma” to the state civil rights law has brought back some interesting memories.

I first began writing a column for the Word, a newspaper serving Indiana’s gay community, some 25 years ago. I stopped when the Word changed ownership, but the new editor (an old friend) asked me to come back, and I agreed.

Then I did something else.

I went into my files and reviewed some of my earliest Word columns. That review left me with two contradictory impressions: how dramatically things have changed—and how little.

Here, for example, are excerpts from a column from the year 2000. Just 16 years ago.

My youngest son recently attended the wedding of two co-workers. It was a lovely affair—formal, at an expensive Chicago hotel, conducted with meticulous attention to detail.

The program book included a message from the bride and groom, reciting how enthusiastic they were to enter into wedded life together, how sure they were that matrimony was the right choice for them. In fact, they said, there was only one hesitation, one fact that gave rise to a certain reluctance to marry: the fact that others were legally prevented from doing likewise. It seemed unfair that the status of matrimony was available to them, a man and a woman, and not available to others merely because they were of the same gender. The message concluded with a request that those present, who had shared the happy day with this particular couple, work toward a time “when everyone can enter into the institution of marriage and have their union recognized by society and the state.”

I couldn’t help thinking about the implications of this simple, powerful statement….

What would happen to the pervasive bigotry against gays and lesbians if hundreds, then thousands, of heterosexuals added similar paragraphs to their wedding programs? What if every church and synagogue that believes in human dignity added such language to their bulletins? What if businesses catering to families advertised for business by interpreting “family” in an inclusive and affirming way?

That would change the world.

What a contrast I see between my son’s friends and the group of shrill and homophobic clerics who called a press conference in Washington last week to announce that God hates homosexuality…

I am confident that, if there is indeed a judgment day, a good and just God will offer a special place in heaven to the young couple whose love extended beyond each other to embrace the human community and all its members.

The real question is, how would that good and just God respond to those who used the name of the Lord to justify their hatreds and excuse their bigotries?

As we now know, what did “change the world” was the courage of thousands of LGBT people who refused to live dishonestly and who “came out”–often with the support of their families and allies, but sometimes in the face of enormous hostility.

Last year, marriage equality became the law of the land, and survey research tells us that solid majorities of Americans now endorse marriage equality and support the extension of full civil rights protections to the gay community.

What didn’t change, of course, is the fury of the religious extremists—including Indiana’s Governor—who continue to use their religions and their crabbed versions of Deity to justify homophobia and discrimination. They are out in force to keep the Indiana General Assembly from adding sexual orientation and gender identity to Indiana’s civil rights law. Their persistence is why the rest of us can’t rest.

Not yet.







Why the Legislature Should Rip Off the Bandaid

When I was a child and scraped a knee or otherwise required a band-aid, I would dread removing it. Eventually, I learned that it hurt more to try peeling it off bit by bit than it did if I just gave it a good yank.

Fast forward to the Indiana General Assembly, and the back-and-forth about “four words and a comma.”

Leave aside all the rhetoric. Ignore who’s “right” and who’s “wrong,” and just look at the political realities.

If the legislature fails to extend full civil rights protections to LGBT Hoosiers, three things are guaranteed to happen: there will be a replay of the economic boycotts that threatened to knee-cap the state during the RFRA disaster; the business community will take out its anger on Republican officeholders (beginning with the Governor, but definitely not limited to His Holiness); and–worst of all, from the perspective of lawmakers trying desperately not to take a position on the issue— the battle will return in the next session. And the one after that, if necessary.

This is an issue that is crowding out other important matters that lawmakers need to address: infrastructure financing, education, economic development. It will continue to “suck the air” out of the legislative process until it is resolved. (And weenie bills with lots of caveats won’t cut it.)

Proponents of “four words and a comma” will come back again and again until those words and that comma are inserted into Indiana’s civil rights law. Furthermore, the ultimate success of their efforts really isn’t in doubt—as Bob Dylan said, you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing. Prolonging the agony is like peeling back that band-aid a painful bit at a time.

Senator Long seems to understand that. Others, not so much.

Hint to Indiana lawmakers: It will hurt a lot less if you just rip that band-aid off and do the inevitable sooner rather than later.


Political Gamesmanship from Indiana’s Governor?

As regular readers know, I posted a critical review of Governor Pence’s “State of the State” address. I certainly wasn’t alone–editorial writers and columnists around the state panned the presentation.

Critics focused particularly on the Governor’s unwillingness to endorse civil rights protections for LGBT Hoosiers, and his declaration that he “would not sign” a bill he considered insufficiently protective of religious liberty.  Like most critics of that pronouncement, I assumed that the lack of specifics–the Governor certainly didn’t say what provisions he would or would not accept–was tantamount to a veto threat.

We may be wrong—but not for reasons that are particularly comforting to those on either side of this debate.

Over the past two days, in separate conversations, people with broad political experience observing Indiana government have parsed the Governor’s language and arrived at a different conclusion. They point out that what Pence said was “I will not sign a bill…” He did not say “I will veto a bill.” Under Indiana law, the two are not the same thing.

In Indiana, when the state legislature passes a bill and sends it to the Governor,  there are three actions that Governor can take: 1)he can sign the bill, after which it becomes law; 2) he can veto the bill and send it back to lawmakers, who can then sustain or override the veto;  or 3) he can allow the bill to become law without his signature.

Politically, as everyone has pointed out, Pence is between a rock and hard place. His reelection prospects are utterly dependent upon the loyalty of his base of “Christian Soldiers.” He cannot afford to lose them, and they will leave at the slightest sign that Pence is softening his stance against equal rights for LGBT Hoosiers (and that would include any statement suggesting that he might allow an expansion of civil rights to become law).

Unfortunately for Pence, the number of these religious warriors is steadily declining, so he also needs significant support from the business wing of the Republican Party— and the business community is virtually unanimous in its support for civil rights expansion.

As the Democrats have pointed out (almost daily), Pence spent some 175 days avoiding taking a position—desperately trying to placate those on either side of the issue.

As one of the lawyers I talked with observed, the “non-position” communicated to the legislature in Pence’s State of the State address had two possible interpretations: 1) please don’t send me anything that will force me to decide what to do; or 2) if you send me a bill, I won’t sign it–but I won’t veto it, either. It will become law without my explicit endorsement.

The carefully noncommittal framing of the Governor’s statement in the State of the State was even more cowardly than it appeared in the moment, because it allows people on both sides to believe that he shares their concerns–that he is “with them.”

Disingenuous as it may have been, however, it gives some small measure of hope to those of us who want to see genuine civil rights protections for LGBT Hoosiers enacted in Indiana.

It’s Called the Rule of Law….

Indiana’s Governor isn’t the only government official living in an alternate universe. Look, for example, at Alabama’s “Judge” Roy Moore, who has also been in the news of late.

It’s one thing when students who don’t understand the difference between a statute and a constitution complain that their preferred policies should be the law of the land. It’s regrettable–albeit humorous–when Y’all Qaida cowboys communicate their grievances (and inadvertently, their ignorance) by taking over a bird sanctuary. But we expect lawyers— and especially Judges—to understand how the American legal system works.

They don’t have to agree with every Supreme Court decision. They can stamp their feet and insist—as Governor Pence did when he was Congressman Pence—that Marbury versus Madison was wrongly decided, and that every statute struck down by the Supreme Court since 1803 was an act of judicial usurpation.

But we do expect them to obey the decisions of the highest court in the land.

For those of you who’ve been vacationing on the moon, Moore—who has long been a religious zealot with delusions of grandeur—is the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, a position he regained after being removed for defying federal law and several court orders by erecting a five-ton replica of the Ten Commandments at the door to the Alabama courthouse. Most recently,

Judge Moore issued an administrative order declaring that “Alabama probate judges have a ministerial duty not to issue any marriage licenses” to same-sex couples. The Supreme Court’s June Obergefell decision legalizing same-sex marriage involved a case from a different federal circuit, so it does not apply in Alabama, Moore argues. Legal experts say that is a patently wrong interpretation of American law.

Patently wrong indeed! Law students who took such a position would never pass a bar exam.

Read my lips, “Judge.” If you don’t like gay people, fine. Don’t invite them over for dinner. If you disapprove of same-sex marriage, don’t have one. If your version of God hates homosexuals, feel free to pray for their descent into the fiery pits (or whatever hell you people believe in).

But no matter how fervent your belief, no matter how wedded you are to your animus, you don’t get to overrule the Supreme Court. If you are incapable of following and applying the law, you need to be impeached or otherwise removed from a position that allows you to affect other people.

I think it was Andy Warhol who said everyone was entitled to 15 minutes of fame. Don’t look now, Judge, but your 15 minutes are up—and it won’t be long, in historical terms, until those who agree with you join you in that great dustbin of history.