If Governor Mike Pence had known what sort of tempest he was about to let loose on his state when he signed Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act would he have gone through with it? “Heavens no,” he told reporters during a news conference in Indiana. Governor Pence could be forgiven for being unable to anticipate it because there is little precedent for the controversy swirling around his state. Arizona tried passing a similar law in February 2014 that was ultimately vetoed by Governor Jan Brewer after her state was targeted for a boycott by Apple and American Airlines and the NFL publicly discussed moving the 2015 Super Bowl. Apple CEO Tim Cook is on the front lines of a potential boycott on this one, along with Angie’s List and Wal-Mart. NCAA President Mark Emmert suggested future events in Indiana could be in jeopardy. Deja vu. What has been drowned out by the furor over Indiana’s law, aside from the 19 other states with similar statutes, is that nothing about them is explicitly anti-gay. They are designed to protect business owners prerogative to choose which customers to serve. Bakers in Colorado and Oregon have already been sued for refusing to cater to gay clients so a law like Indiana’s is a sensible response.
On the ground in Indiana the debate landed on the doorstep of Memories Pizza. The store was the subject of a news story where a reporter for a local ABC affiliate asked if they would cater a potential same-sex wedding. A store clerk refused and they were met with protests and a Twitter outburst and eventually closed their doors. The way Memories was approached makes it clear that same-sex marriage is front and center in the protests just like it was in Arizona. It’s the one transaction where the issue is relevant. The average sandwich shop or movie theater won’t know their customer’s preference and would not tell a paying customer or quality employee to take a hike. But the narrative that Indiana’s law would enable widespread discrimination is running rings around its would-be foe thanks to some high-powered help from the likes of Hillary Clinton, White House spokesman Josh Earnest, and Yelp founder Jeremy Stoppelman. The narrative is what pushed Governor Pence to make changes to his state’s law and got Arkansas to rework its version before Governor Asa Hutchinson would sign it. Impressive.
Whether any of it is true or not remains to be seen, but businesses in Indiana and Arkansas have been put on notice that the tolerance preached by protesters will not be practiced towards them. The irony in these events is that “marriage equality” gained implicit Supreme Court approval and 37 states have picked up the ball and passed laws affirming it. LGBT rights has the initiative and is on its way to carrying the day. They should be celebrating. And laughing at outcasts like Masterpiece Cakeshop, Sweet Cakes Bakery, and Memories Pizza for staying on what DNC spokesman Mo Elleithee called “the wrong side of history.” Their refusal to toe the line on same-sex marriage stands out as a challenge to equality, one that cannot be allowed, even with the concessions already made by Governor Pence and Governor Hutchinson. One question is still left unanswered. Why would anyone want to hire a photographer or baker to help celebrate a wedding, blissful as it would be, that does not want to be there?