In a complete waste of time, Indiana Governor Mike Pence held a press conference on Tuesday morning to “clarify” the intent of the law known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which would allow business to discriminate against gays and lesbians.
Pence said, “I’ve come to the conclusion that it would be helpful to move legislation this week that makes it clear that this law does not give businesses the right to discriminate against anyone.” Pence went on to add, “I don’t support discrimination against gays or lesbians or anyone else. I abhor discrimination. No one should be harassed or mistreated because of who they are, who they love, or what they believe.”
The problem with Pence’s comments are that they are dishonest and disingenuous. Pence is the same person who, when serving in Congress, voted against the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which proposed to ban discrimination based on one’s sexual orientation. As Think Progress’ Kay Steiger notes, Pence claimed not to support discrimination of any kind, and yet, argued “that by extending the reach of Federal law to cover sexual orientation, employment discrimination protections, in effect, can wage war on the free exercise of religion in the workplace.”
Pence also voted against the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and though he tried to argue that his opposition was not a reflection of his conservative views, he spoke as if openly gay soldiers placed the military in a precarious position during a time of war. This, along with his previous vote on ENDA, do speak to Pence’s attitudes about the LGBT community, not to mention a certain sympathy for those against them.
Case in point, when Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, he was surrounded by the likes of Micah Clark, Curt Smith, and Eric Milled, each of whom have actively vilified gays and lesbians through the years. When asked to identify those men by the Indianapolis Star, he refused to. Pence has a problem with gay people, only he dare not say so publicly.
That’s why Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy is correct in his assessment: “When you see a bigot, you have to call him on it.” Malloy, the incoming chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, on Monday signed an executive order banning state-funded travel to Indiana in response to Pence signing that law. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo made a similar pledge and businesses have followed, which is the true reason Pence felt compelled to hold a presser in which he professed to “fix” the law.
Pence said the bill has been “misconstrued,” but we know better. If Pence truly were forthright, he would be honest about the bill’s original intentions and his own history with discriminatory laws. That would give way to true penance, but I won’t hold my breath. That said, it’s easy to pounce on Pence because he was audacious enough to be so bold with his prejudice. Unfortunately, Indiana’s law is not an outlier in American politics.
There are 19 other states with similar laws. The current GOP presidential field is filled with people who support this sort of legislation. Ohio’s Attorney General Mike DeWine recently came out and argued that gays do not need equal protection laws any longer. In a brief filed to the Supreme Court in support of Ohio’s ban on same-sex marriage, DeWine argued that “any discrimination against them has been on a steady decline” because of the fact that LGBT people can “gain the attention of lawmakers now more than ever.”
Mike Pence is proof that such “attention” doesn’t make discriminatory laws any less common – nor any less detrimental to our basic civil rights.