Intolerance in Indiana


To be clear: a bill signed into law Thursday in Indiana allowing businesses to refuse service to same-sex couples in the name of religious freedom reeks of intolerance, indecency and incivility. It’s out of step with the times. It’s also just dumb. Government in our United States, whether federal or any of the 50 states, has no business interfering this way in people’s lives. That said: what is President Obama going to do now, all of you who so vigorously last year opposed the Russian anti-gay propaganda measure before the Sochi 2014 Games? Send Billie Jean King to Indianapolis?

This is why it’s a better course for us Americans to stay out of the business of moralizing about other countries, and their laws.

Because we can come up with some incredibly stupid and offensive ones ourselves.

Gov. Mike Pence, a Republican, signed the Indiana bill into law on Thursday.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, right, at January's AFC championship game // photo Getty Images

Immediately, it put pressure on the NCAA, and other sports entities.

The Indiana law comes at a strange time. The U.S. Supreme Court is poised to rule in June on whether same-sex marriage is constitutionally protected and therefore legal in all 50 states.

Why this reactionary law in Indiana now — it’s like a peek backward into history instead of looking ahead into the progressive future the Supreme Court would seem to be signaling is forthcoming.

Last year, Arizona’s Republican governor, Jan Brewer, vetoed a similar bill, saying, “It could divide Arizona in ways that we could not even imagine and no one would ever want.”

Pence said in an interview with an Indianapolis radio station that the new law is controversial because “of the way some in the media have reported on this.”

Without referring directly to gay rights, he said the bill was “not about any contemporary issue,” adding, “This was a measure that, frankly, Indiana should have enacted many years ago. It gives our courts guidance about evaluating government action and puts the highest standard — it essentially says, if a government is going to compel you to act in a way that violates your religious beliefs, there has to be a compelling state interest.”

One breathlessly awaits the court argument: the state attorney general arguing that there is, in fact, a compelling state interest on behalf of aggrieved Christian bakers, florists and photographers who could, you know, make money by engaging in commerce in same-sex marriage ceremonies -- just as in ceremonies between a man and woman.

Or, as, one Pence ally alleged, "A Christian business should not be punished for refusing to allow a man to use the women's restroom!"

This is for real -- what passes for honest-to-goodness rationalization of legislation in Indiana. This ally, Eric Miller, is an influential lobbyist on socially conservative issues in Indiana. Again, for real.

One also can hardly wait for the state lawyer to explain, exactly, how anyone is threatened by, as Miller put it, "those who support government recognition and approval of gender identity (men who dress as women),” because this bill “will help provide the protection!”

This is 2015?

This is idiocy.

The NCAA, of course, is based in Indianapolis. Next week, the men’s basketball Final Four is due to be held in the Indianapolis Colts’ Lucas Oil Stadium.

Jason Collins, the recently retired center and the first openly gay NBA player, posted this earlier in the week to his Twitter account:

Collins should have no immediate worries. The law does not formally go into effect until July 1.

To his credit, Mark Emmert, the NCAA president, issued a statement that said, “The NCAA national office and our members are deeply committed to providing an inclusive environment for all our events. We are especially concerned about how this legislation could affect our student-athletes and employees.

“We will work diligently to assure student-athletes competing in, and visitors attending, next week’s Men’s Final Four in Indianapolis are negatively affected by this bill. Moving forward, we intend to closely examine the implications of this bill and how it might affect future events as well as our workforce.”

Moving the NCAA out of town is a tall order. At the same time, this kind of discrimination simply can not stand.

Indianapolis is the site each year of the Big Ten football championship game. It can be moved.

The NFL holds its scouting combine in Indy each year. It can be moved.

In 2012, Indianapolis played host to the Super Bowl; in 2010, the Final Four.

It is due to stage the women’s Final Four next year, the men’s Final Four again in 2021. They can be moved.

In the aftermath of the Sochi Games, the International Olympic Committee last December affirmed its commitment to what is called Principle 6 —expressly including non-discrimination on sexual orientation in its fundamental principles. This came about as part of what the IOC has called Agenda 2020, a 40-point measure that its president, Thomas Bach, has pushed as a far-reaching reform plan.

The IOC’s fundamental goal is to make the world a better place, little by little, day by day.

The IOC doesn’t always get a lot of things right. This one, though — it’s right on the mark. The governor talked a good game Thursday about being a friendly Hoosier, going on in a statement accompanying the signing of the law about "hospitality, generosity, tolerance and values." The law itself says otherwise. He -- and the state legislature -- could learn a lot from the IOC, and about the realities of life in 2015.