April 8, 2015 at 11:35 am EDT | by Peter Rosenstein
A defining moment for LGBT rights
Mike Pence, gay news, Washington Blade

Gov. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) (Photo by Gage Skidmore; courtesy Flickr)

The closer we get to the Supreme Court decision on whether states can ban same-sex marriage, the more an anticipated positive ruling is striking fear in a group of voters and the Republican presidential candidates clamoring for their support.

Today when it is less politically correct to exhibit homophobia and outright discrimination toward LGBT individuals, those feelings and desire to discriminate are being couched in religious conviction and people are using the term “religious freedom” to make discrimination legal. We are seeing that represented in the first Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) bill signed by the governor of Indiana and the bill initially proposed in Arkansas.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) didn’t foresee his action would be a defining moment for the LGBT community. The incredible backlash the bill generated hit like a tsunami with individuals from Apple’s CEO Tim Cook to other major tech corporations speaking out and willing to forgo business in Indiana. The bill was criticized by the NCAA and NASCAR. Then the coup-de-gras when mainstream America Walmart  told Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) to veto the same bill the legislature passed there and he listened and sent the bill back to the legislature.

Mayors in San Francisco, Seattle, Denver and Muriel Bowser in Washington, D.C. as well as the governors of Connecticut and New York quickly banned the use of public funds for their employees to travel to Indiana. We also found out there are many decent people in Indiana who spoke up against this law for both personal and business reasons including the Indiana Chamber of Commerce and the Republican mayor of Indianapolis Greg Ballard. Clearly they understand discrimination is bad for business.

Mike Pence was tongue tied trying to explain why the bill he signed wasn’t meant to discriminate. He was backed up by a slew of those wanting to run for the Republican nomination for President who jumped on the bandwagon supporting the bill and the governor. Marco Rubio, Mike Huckabee, Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, Rick Santorum and others couldn’t get their statements of support out fast enough.

But Pence was clearly the wrong horse to back and he didn’t convinced anyone his intent wasn’t to discriminate. His history of animus to the LGBT community is something he can’t hide from. An interview with Chris Jansing when Pence was in Congress is only one example of his true feelings. When asked about allowing gays and lesbians in the military and about the survey being done to find out whether members of the military would be comfortable serving with gays and lesbians, Jansing asked, “If it does say what the indication has been — that the vast majority of service members and their families don’t have a problem with it?,” Pence replied, “Well, I would still have a problem with it because there is no question that to mainstream homosexuality within the active duty military would have an impact on unit cohesion, an impact on readiness.”

On his website when he ran for Congress, the “Pence Agenda” supported “an audit to ensure that federal dollars were no longer being given to organizations that celebrate and encourage the types of behaviors that facilitate the spreading of the HIV virus,” and went further to say resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.” Under the headline “The Pence Agenda: A Guide To Renewing the America Dream,” he said, “Congress should oppose any effort to recognize homosexuals as a ‘discreet and insular minority’ entitled to the protection of anti-discrimination laws similar to those extended to women and ethnic minorities.”

One of the people who understood how bad Pence was is former Congressman Phil Sharp (D-Ind.) who twice beat Pence in Congressional campaigns. Many of us who have coffee with him each morning at Java House would like to convince him to run for governor against Pence under the slogan “sharper than ever,” but he is adamant he enjoys his current job as president of Resources for the Future too much to ever do that. Pence should breathe a sigh of relief over that.

The New York Times in its editorial on this issue said it well. “Religion should not be allowed to serve as a cover for discrimination in the public sphere. In the past, racial discrimination was also justified by religious beliefs, yet businesses may not refuse service to customers because of their race. Such behavior should be no more tolerable when it is based on sexual orientation.” So Gov. Pence we actually owe you a thank you. Letting your bigotry show may just have helped us turn the corner on achieving LGBT civil and human rights in America.


Peter Rosenstein is a D.C.-based LGBT rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade. 

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