Mike Pence tries, and fails, to defend “straights only” law

On Sunday, Indiana Governor Mike Pence joined George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s This Week, seeking to clarify the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which he signed on Thursday and has been widely interpreted as establishing a “right to discriminate” in the state.

But when repeatedly offered the chance to clarify that the law does not, in fact, legalize discrimination against members of the LGBT community, Pence balked:

In case you don’t want to sit through the whole interview, here’s a two-minute supercut of all the times Pence refused to say whether his new law allows for anti-LGBT discrimination:

Rather than actually clarifying the letter and spirit of the law, Pence relied on the following talking points, which he repeatedly pivoted back to in the face of very simple yes/no questions from Stephanopoulos:

  • Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act is no different from legislation signed by President Bill Clinton and voted for by then-State Senator Barack Obama
  • The law isn’t about discrimination; it’s about religious liberty
  • Tolerance is a two-way street

The problem, of course, is that none of those things are true:

Indiana’s RFRA is different

As noted by Lambda Legal, Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act was passed in the context of Indiana law, which does not outline parallel protections for members of the LGBT community. The Illinois law that Barack Obama voted for was passed in, well, Illinois, a state that already had LGBT protections on the books. And the federal RFRA was limited to government action, whereas Indiana’s law is so broadly written that it could be used as a defense in civil suits between individuals. The law, quite literally, makes “because God wills it” a valid legal defense for pretty much anything Indianans want to do:

When asked if he would support adding language to the RFRA outlining LGBT protections, or affirming existing anti-discrimination laws, Pence responded with, “That’s not on my agenda,” and added that he’s “not going to change” the law he signed. That makes sense, given that amendments that would have provided for such protections were repeatedly rejected as the bill made its way through Indiana’s legislature.

The law is about discrimination, not religious liberty

If the law does nothing more than reaffirm freedom of religion as defined by the First Amendment, as Pence so adamantly repeated during his interview, then why was it necessary? Surely the First Amendment covers any concerns religious people have about the right to practice their religion freely in the context of a secular liberal democracy, right?

Unless, of course, you want to protect religious people’s right to discriminate. In that case, you need to go above and beyond First Amendment protections.

And a quick look at the people celebrating the law provides a few clues as to what its real goals are: 

This law was not lobbied for by business leaders who are concerned about their ability to practice their religion. In fact, practically every businessperson who has been asked has said that they think laws like these are awful ideas. Instead, Indiana’s RFRA was championed by professional discriminators at hate groups such as the American Family Association, Indiana Family Institute and Advance America to make sure that amateur discriminators can be jerks to their fellow citizens with the law, to say nothing of God, on their side.

That’s why, when pressed over and over again by Stephanopoulos on the simple question of whether or not Indiana’s RFRA legalized discrimination based on sexual orientation, Mike Pence repeatedly refused to answer. He can’t say with a straight face that the law doesn’t allow for “straights-only” discrimination because that’s exactly what it does.

Being tolerant doesn’t mean putting up with intolerance

As I noted last week, religious conservatives are responding to the steady encroachment of equality by attempting to carve out their own status as a protected class — one defined by a “right to discriminate.” Under this formulation, those who aren’t comfortable with conservatives exercising this right — one that’s literally God-mandated, not just God-given — are the real bigots, making conservatives the real persecuted minority.

This is why Indiana’s bill is titled the way it is. The Religious Freedom “Restoration” Act implies that religious freedom is so badly damaged in this country that it needs to be “restored.”

Of course, this couldn’t be further from the truth. America is more religiously diverse than it ever has been, and it’s also more tolerant. That 44% of Americans have either left or switched denominations within the faith of their upbringing is an expression of exactly how free religion is in this country, as opposed to previous decades.

So it’s patently ridiculous to say that religious freedom is somehow under threat in America. What isn’t so ridiculous, however, is the idea that Mike Pence’s brand of right-wing Christian supremacy is. The more diverse America has become, the less patience it has held for those who claim that their group should have extra — not equal — rights relative to others.

This wave of “right to discriminate” bills are nothing more than theocons grasping at legislative straws in an attempt to re-legitimize their belief that they can and should be higher in the political and cultural hierarchy than anyone the Bible says is icky. No matter how you dress that belief up, the Constitution says it doesn’t fly.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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52 Responses to “Mike Pence tries, and fails, to defend “straights only” law”

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  3. Moderator4 says:

    He is banned, Butch1.

  4. emjayay says:

    I was impressed enough by “duplicitous little cretin”.

  5. Butch1 says:

    That’s correct. You, singled me out; big difference. ad hominem.

  6. johnmartin says:

    Mike Pence is a liar and a hypocrite. He is lying when he claims outrage that this law was “perceived” as discrimination. That was the intention of the law and the writers of the bill are all anti gay and this was seen as a way to push the “pro family” values crusade. Mike Pence is a Religious Right Zealot. His speech at the “Advance America,” meeting, a right wing religious zealot group, shows him for who he really is and he is a liar and a charlatan for not admitting who he is and why he pushed for this anti gay law. http://advanceamerica.com/

  7. The_Fixer says:

    What activity is that?

    Nobody’s forcing them to have sex with someone of the same gender. No one is forcing them to gay marry.

    There are civil rights laws about public accommodation. If you provide a service to the public, you serve all of the public. This extends to the government, but it covers commerce as well. This is in spite of any religious objections one may have.

    In my line of work, I deal with many clients, among them churches. I am an atheist. I morally object to some of the things some churches say and do. In spite of that, I provide the same level of courteous, friendly and fair service on a first-come-first-served basis as I do other clients. It’s not hard, I regard it as being fair and decent. And, it’s the law.

    It is worth remembering that the same justification, religiously-based moral objection to one’s immutable characteristics, was used in the case of racial and ethnic discrimination. It still is used by some people today, and they are (rightly) regarded as being wrong in thinking that.

    I might add that the point you make in your reply is in direct conflict with what Governor Pence and the law’s supporters claim it to be. They say that it’s not about anti-gay discrimination. The wording of your reply doesn’t merely suggest otherwise, it fairly screams it.

    The wise-ass nature of your reply will also not gain you any friends or credibility here. I can fling insults as well as the next guy; let’s not get to that level. You come off as a troll, and any amusement we may get from reading your comments will quickly fade into people ignoring you.

    Wanna discuss? Fine. Fling another insult at me and we’re done here.

  8. Vonduit says:

    Mudslinging? Dang dude……I was responding to your post!!!! Oh…. I forgot ….when you call people homophobic bigots …your not mudslinging !!! You arr more of a bigot than I ever thought about being!

  9. Butch1 says:

    Yes, that’s exactly what they are and perhaps what you are. Take your bigotry else where; you aren’t welcome here if you are going to mudsling.

  10. Vonduit says:

    Homophobic bigots ? I guess that makes you a homosexual bigot! The same thing you are calling them a bigot for…you are doing!!!

  11. Vonduit says:

    What freedom is limited? The choice of participation in an activity that is morally objectionable …..I know you are not that dense..

  12. The_Fixer says:

    I think it depends upon the state, and the law or ordinance involved. I have no knowledge of Indiana’s state constitution in particular, but most state constitutions are modeled after the U.S. Constitution. Municipalities, towns, and townships do have a certain amount of latitude when it comes to a number of things, but not sure about this one.

    Anybody know if Indiana has a supremacy clause? We know about the Federal, and that it takes precedence when it comes to civil rights. What about states?

  13. Rambie says:

    Nice, but doesn’t state law override a local (City) ordnance?

  14. basenjilover says:

    Here’s an idea we need to pound Republicans and Corporate Democrats on daily basis….. “how about doing something to create jobs, reduce poverty, boost education, repair infrastructure, make corporates pay fair share of taxes, reduce military spending, revoke NFL’s non profit status …..” list goes on and on.

  15. The_Fixer says:

    The question I’d like to see answered is: What religious freedoms have been taken away which need to be restored?

    This is a fundamental question that I’m sure others have asked, and it needs to be asked over and over.

    One of my jobs is at a small company that installs multimedia systems for various entities. Among them are corporations, schools, and yes, churches. The company has installed many elaborate sound and video systems for many churches. Judging from the expense involved in some of these systems, I’d say that the churches are dong quite well. And there seem to be a lot of them around.

    They have tools to keep the believers stoked, almost all of them have nice buildings in which they gather for that purpose, and tax-exempt status.

    Again, in what way is their freedom limited? They can’t answer that without spouting some kind of gobbledy-gook word salad.

    Of course, their freedoms aren’t in need of restoration, because they never went away. This point has to be made repeatedly to the largest audience possible.

  16. FLL says:

    While most of American society registers its disapproval of Indiana’s new law, Jebbie Bush goes after the bigot vote, saying Indiana Governor Pence did “the right thing.” From the New York Times (yesterday evening):
    http://www.nytimes.com/politics/first-draft/2015/03/30/jeb-bush-defends-indianas-religious-beliefs-law/?_r=0

  17. mirth says:

    “Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard (R) has signed an executive order protecting the city’s LGBT community from discrimination and denounced the state’s controversial new religious freedom law.
    […]
    ‘This isn’t about politics. This isn’t about PR. This is about doing what’s right for individuals, for our city, and our state,’ he said. ‘Discrimination is wrong, and I hope that message is being heard loud and clear at the Statehouse.'”

    http://www.upi.com/Top_News/US/2015/03/30/Indianapolis-mayor-signs-executive-order-protecting-LGBT-community/4251427769812/?spt=sec&or=tn

  18. crazymonkeylady says:

    This horrible law is headed toward Michigan. The Tea Party Pestilence has infected my state. We can’t allow it to happen. Not now, not ever!

  19. mark_in_toronto says:

    Being from Indiana, I can see how this bill was created and passed.

    Indiana as a state is red, but Indy as the more liberal urban capitol is blue and the state-wide split usually shows a slight advantage towards the conservatives. So in a state election, the conservative will likely win. This explains the bigoted GOP governor. It also explains the severe backlash from those who DIDN’T vote, but who are now suddenly involved.
    PEOPLE . . . don’t be apathetic about state elections and then raise hell when you don’t get your way. In my opinion, you are getting exactly what you deserve.

    Next time . . . . VOTE . . . and even better . . . be and stay involved in your state’s politics. This is the only way things will ever get turned around – on a local AND national level.

    If you don’t participate . . . don’t complain!

  20. Butch1 says:

    Now they charge admission to visit him. ;-)

    ( It was the only way to recoup the money they had spent on his education. ) ;-) Of course, at that rate they will have to petrify him when he finally dies.

  21. Naja pallida says:

    The Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision has already affirmed in law that employers can force their religious beliefs on their employees. It just hasn’t been taken to its inevitable result yet.

  22. nicho says:

    Max Shulman wrote a short story many years ago about a guy who went to school and took out student loans. He didn’t see any prospects of paying them back. So he went to grad school and took out more loans. Then, he did it again. And again. And again. Finally, he owed the government so much money, they figured they’s never get it back. So, they just declared him a national park.

  23. Katan Scott says:

    Exactly. Looks like the straight community is already mobilizing against the law along with LGBT groups, but bringing up scenarios like this where they are effected would certainly encourage more straight people to protest the bill.

  24. nicho says:

    Or I, as a Catholic business owner, could fire divorced employees unless they went back to their “real” spouses.

  25. Bill_Perdue says:

    I cited ENDA because it was the only legislation pending at the time. Of course we need a federal CRA as I’ve pointed out innumerable times. In the absence of that
    in 2009-10 an inclusive ENDA without religious would have prohibited interference in the right to be hired and protected LGBT people on the job. This law legalizes on the job discrimination.

    2009-10 was no fluke. It’s an example of the consistent 40 year long policy of Democrats and Republicans to deny the codification of our rights in
    federal law.

  26. Katan Scott says:

    I’ve always had my doubts regarding laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. But these “religious freedom” laws should be cause for concern for everybody. If it is as broadly written as Jon says it is, a single mother could be denied important services because of her “fornication.”

  27. Katan Scott says:

    How rich.

  28. BeccaM says:

    ENDA was about employment. It would have done very little to stop Indiana shop owners from putting their newly printed “No Gays” signs in their windows, as they’re now allowed to do.

    This Indiana legislation would most certainly not be moot as it goes much further.

    Yes, the Dems absolutely blew it when they failed to pass ENDA when they had the chance. But it would not have been anything even approaching a panacea for gay rights in general.

  29. Bill_Perdue says:

    If the Democrats had passed ENDA in 2009-2010 this legislation would be moot as it’s clearly a discriminatory law aimed at the LGBT communities and it’s an attack on all laws, federal and state, that mandate equal access for anyone.

  30. FLL says:

    The first unintended consequence of Indiana’s “religious liberty” law turns out to be… The First Church of Cannabis! Their registration with the Indiana state government has been approved, and members of the First Church of Cannabis will certainly want to exercise their religious rights. Woohoo! From some silly scripture or another: “If thou worship other Gods before me, thou shalt be stoned.” It all makes sense now. Here is the link:

    http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2015/03/whoops-indianas-anti-gay-religious-freedom-act-opens-the-door-for-the-first-church-of-cannabis/

  31. Palto says:

    One would think a red flag would go up for this genius after that the hateful hag Jan Brewer stayed far away from signing this bill for Az.

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  34. Dan Lack says:

    The only good thing to have come out of this entire fiasco, is that Pence’s Presidential ambitions, have completely gone up in smoke, vanished overnite..he knows it, and it must be killing him..plus after years of crafting the slogan “hoosier hospitality” Pence is now responsible for Indiana’s reputation as a state of haters…and the economic hit which Indiana will take will be blamed on Pence…so there is a tiny bit of consolation in this mess….

  35. pliny says:

    There’s a Supreme Court decision from 1997 that the federal RFRA can’t be applied to states. Pence is still full of shit though.

  36. BlueIdaho says:

    You can put earrings and lipstick on a pig, but in the end it is still a pig. I don’t care how many ways they try to spin this, it is open discrimination against the LGBT community. Pence is lying sack of shit and he knows it.

  37. Butch1 says:

    Sorry to read this; we only have to “thank” our Congress critters in the 1% bracket who worship and do the bidding of their buddies on Wall Street and give them everything they command. If we could only force them to have term-limits so we could get rid of these “lifers” who have made themselves millionaires many times over by hanging around Washington DC until they just have to retire or scandal forces them out, we could change things in this country and perhaps break the grip Wall Street has on our government.

  38. Butch1 says:

    Becoming a professional student could be fun. ;-)

  39. Butch1 says:

    I didn’t watch it; I can’t watch and do not have time for “hateful-stupidity.”

  40. Butch1 says:

    Good! Expose them for what they truly are; homophobic bigots. If they are out to take away the rights of us all, then we need to expose them for who and what they truly are. They made money off of us and they will pay for it.

  41. 2karmanot says:

    “Who knows what I could have done with a regular doctorate” Hopefully better than me, who barely survives on Social Security, a tiny wee pension and about to lose my rent because it just went up $200.00 a month.

  42. Mike_in_the_Tundra says:

    I must say I admire your ability to stretch it to six years. My Master’s Degree took another five years. You can’t say I’m not consistent. I only had what the school system called a Doctorate Equivalency. Who knows what I could have done with a regular doctorate. I could have been working on it until the 22nd century.

  43. Indigo says:

    Stupid. Say it loud, say it proud. He’s stupid!

  44. Indigo says:

    Only 5 years for an undergraduate degree? Not to brag or anything but it took me six. (Post-grad went faster.)

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  46. gratuitous says:

    The tell, of course, is that if the new Indiana law merely duplicates the federal law, then why pass it? Doesn’t the Indiana lege have better things to do than pass superfluous laws?

    Pence seems genuinely surprised by the reaction, and keeps babbling the same meaningless phrases about “misunderstanding” and “mischaracterizing” the new law. He really appears to be ot-nat oo-tay ight-bray, if you know what I mean.

  47. nicho says:

    You can’t defend the indefensible. (Write that down. It will be on the final.)

  48. The_Fixer says:

    I generally have a great deal of difficulty watching right-wing politicians for very long. Which is why I watched the two-minute “supercut” rather than the long version.

    That in and of itself was incredibly maddening to watch. Pence is a duplicitous little cretin. What’s nearly worse is that he’s bad at hiding it.

    If he thinks that he’s smart enough and talented enough to sell this steaming pile of crap of a law as A) being necessary and B) a protective measure rather than the discrimination-enabling favor to theocrats that it is, he’s dead-ass wrong.

    Those on the religious right who are adept at hearing dog-whistles, as well as those of us who see it for what it is, know exactly what this is about. It’s about codifying discrimination and breaking down any separation between church and state.

    He’s an incredible coward as well. I could say more, worse things about him, but I’ll stop here.

  49. Mike_in_the_Tundra says:

    We now have a Hoosier side step. I have always thought that Mike Pence was a politician of little brain, but I have always had fond memories of Indiana.

    I attended IU where I managed to lose something that I was happy to lose, which might help explain how I crammed four years of college into five years. I thought Brown County was beautiful, but I now have no desire to ever go back.

  50. Glen Thompson says:

    Yet another state that won’t be seeing any of our tourist dollars.

  51. Indigo says:

    Wasn’t that an interesting interview? I’ve come to the conclusion that Governor Pence is not lying, he’s stupid.
    In the interests of full disclosure, I’m an umpteenth generation native born Hoosier from Elkhart County where my maternal ancestors have dwelt since 1812 or before. And to compound that, I’ve got my doctorate from Indiana University-Bloomington, making me a Hoosier twice over. No shame! But you don’t see me living there any more. #boycottIndiana!

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