Just a quick note on the flap over Indiana’s terrible and soon-to-be-neutered “Religious Freedom” law. I don’t expect to spend a whole lot of time on a subject that barely has anything to do with Rochester or science. Nevertheless, this constant drumbeat about how Bill Clinton signed something and that therefore this bill and any other similar bill should be embraced by every liberal in America can’t really go without comment.
Firstly, to state the obvious, presidents do things that even their most ardent supporters don’t like much. It’s part of the give-and-take of politics. Just because Bill Clinton signed NAFTA doesn’t mean that most liberals don’t mention trade agreements through gritted teeth. So it goes.
Secondly, that two bills were modeled one after the other – a dubious declaration, but let’s concede the point – doesn’t mean that the devil doesn’t still lurk in the details. After all, if the Federal law was so wonderful and Federal law supersedes state law, what would the need have been for this new Indiana-specific law? One reason is that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act was ruled unconstitutional as applied by states. So no, the Indiana law is not at all the same thing as the original RFRA.
What really matters, however, is the insistence that “nothing bad happened” as a result of the RFRA’s passage. I’ll leave it to others to recount the history of the RFRA and what harm might or might not have been done. But even if we take it as a given that “nothing bad happened” as a result of the RFRA, twenty years is a long goddamned time.
Specifically on the issue of gay rights – indisputably the primary reason for the Indiana bill, despite Republican back-pedaling – twenty years has changed opinions across the country. Gay marriage was once thought to be a fringe issue or an indulgence to a small minority. Now, it is a mainstream issue on which the average American has already ruled in favour. I doubt very much that, should the subject of gay marriage have been raised in 1992, anyone would have taken it seriously, yet now it is a regular point of contention in presidential and gubernatorial debate.
This law was established specifically to roll back the changes that history will deem justified and moral. To roll back the tide of public sentiment solely for those who, as even the language of the law provides, feel “uncomfortable” with those changes. Because a segment of our population “feels” it’s rights are being infringed upon, another segment of our population is expected to keep it’s true identity secreted away in some small-minded state.
Yes, there is a huge difference between the bill first introduced in the Senate by New York’s own Chuck Schumer and signed into law by Bill Clinton and the despicable attempts to roll back human rights in one state.