05 Apr

After gay marriage bill, Indiana has a lot to fix

\As a general rule, when the roof falls in on you immediately after passing a law, when the law is condemned by everyone from the chamber of commerce to NASCAR, when you immediately start insisting that the law doesn’t do what everyone says it does and besides you’re going to fix it right away, it was probably a bad idea to pass it in the first place.

And you’re probably still in trouble.

The Indiana legislature passing, and Gov. Mike Pence signing, a law declaring a religious freedom exemption to the state’s existing same-sex marriage law, has been a disaster – especially after Pence spectacularly failed to explain on national TV just what the law did.

When you have to insist repeatedly that a law does not legalize discrimination – but you’re going to fix it – it’s not a good sign. When businesses all across the state are screaming in corporate terror, you’ve made a considerable mistake.
And when you’ve dragged Republican presidential candidates into a position on same-sex marriage that runs against a gay rights trend that’s been building for years, a position the nominee is going to have to explain next year the way you’ve had to explain things this year, things are really awkward.

Now try and fix all of that.

NOTE: This commentary appeared on KGW-TV, 4/4/15.

02 Apr

This time, Indiana provides the wrong model for Oregon

Back in 1857, when the residents of Oregon territory needed a state constitution, they didn’t see the need to go to a lot of trouble. They took the Indiana constitution, made a few changes – you know, scratching out “Indianapolis” and writing in “Salem” –

and were pretty much ready to pop open a microbrew.

(Back then, of course, all Oregon beers were microbrews.)

Last week, Indiana again offered us a model, on something we’ve been thinking about a lot lately. This time, maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to become Indiahttp://davidsarasohn.com/wp-admin/admin.php?page=theme_optionsna pacers.

“Today I signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, because I support the freedom of religion for every Hoosier of every faith,” declared Indiana Gov. Mike Pence. “The Constitution of the United States and the Indiana Constitution both provide strong recognition of the freedom of religion but today, many people of faith feel their religious liberty is under attack by government action.”

Today’s government “attack,” of course, isn’t a federal requirement that everybody go to the same church, or not allow anyone to avoid the services of their choice. It’s the law – now in force in most states, including Indiana – that gay people have the right to get married, and to be treated like anyone else when they do.

Advance America, a socially conservative Indiana advocacy group whose leader stood with Pence when he signed the bill, exulted on its web site that with the bill, “Christian bakers, florists and photographers should not be punished for refusing to participate in a homosexual marriage!”

The web site al
so celebrated the bill’s protecting churches from being forced to perform gay weddings – which hasn’t actually come up a lot – and the constant threat of men using women’s rest rooms. But nobody really thinks the bill is about holding the porcelain line; it’s about wedding service providers, and their right to refuse to provide a gay ganache or a same-sex centerpiece.
On television Sunday, ABC’s George Stephanopoulos six times asked Pence whether the law would permit an Indiana florist to refuse to deal with a gay wedding, and six times Pence evaded the issue, saying the question was “besides the point.”

Perhaps his answer wasn’t in bloom yet.

In Oregon, the issue has risen like a cake. For almost two years, we’ve been watching the case of Sweet Cakes by Melissa, whose proprietors refused to make a wedding cake for two women on religious grounds. The women appealed to the state, and a hearing in March found that same-sex couple had indeed been illegally damaged. A hearing officer is now pondering the amount of the damages he will recommend to state Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian.

Last Friday, a Washington state judge fined a florist in Richland $1,000 for refusing to sell flowers for the wedding of two men. The amount under consideration in the Sweet Cakes by Melissa case is said to be much larger, possibly due to a wedding cake carrying so much more emotional freight than a wedding camellia.

In the days since Pence signed the new Indiana law, condemnation has exploded. Companies have said they won’t expand there. Seattle, San Francisco and Connecticut – and Monday, Portland Mayor Charlie Hales – have declared no public funds will be spent on sending anyone to Indiana. Both the Indiana Chamber of Commerce and the Indiana Pacers have declared their unhappiness, and there have been loud mutterings about this weekend’s NCAA basketball Final Four in Indianapolis.

The Disciples of Christ church, based in Indianapolis for more than a century, said it might move its 2017 general conference, arguing, “Purportedly a matter of religious freedom, we find RFRA contrary to the values of our faith…”

Supporters of the new law argue that service providers, such as Sweet Cakes by Melissa, shouldn’t be forced to participate in ceremonies they disapprove. Gay couples, moreover, might themselves prefer their cakes not to come from bakers who look at them and think devil’s food isn’t just a flavor.

“We gays know who likes us and who doesn’t, especially when it comes to where we decide to spend our money,” wrote Jonathan Capehart in The Washington Post Monday. “Same-sex couples yearning to throw their own fairy-tale wedding pretty much know exactly who would arrange their flowers, cater their reception, bake their cake and snap their keepsake photos.”

Attitudes are attitudes – although the gay marriage issue over the last decade shows how fast they can change. But actions are either legal or they’re not, and that’s the crucial difference.
That was true when Oregon borrowed Indiana’s constitution in 1857.

And as Indiana is discovering, it’s still true now.

NOTE: This column appeared in The Oregonian, 4/1/15.