Huston: The GOP Fallout from RFRA

June 20, 2015

For the use of the membership only.

THE NUMBER ONE ITEM on the agenda of the Indiana Democratic Party these days is gay rights. It is all that party leaders talk about, and it is all that the party’s principal organ – the Indianapolis Star – writes about.

There are a number of reasons why the gay agenda has top priority among Hoosier Democrats: 1) The lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community is a key constituency that provides the party with talent, money, energy and votes; 2) public opinion has shifted dramatically on the issue of gay marriage and affords the party an opportunity to reach beyond its current base; and 3) with the shadow of Barack Obama hovering over them, they don’t have much else to sell that Hoosiers are buying.

Social conservatives are unnerved by the dispatch with which Republican legislators headed for the tall grass when the gay Left turned its heavy artillery on Gov. Mike Pence. I don’t know why there was such surprise at that; ducking out when the going gets tough has been the hallmark of a Republican legislator since the Left decided to drive Richard Nixon from office.

It was not just Matt Tully of the Star who scared the hell out of those legislators who voted for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA): Republican donors, Republican civic-leaders-for-hire and Republican mayors in Marion, Hamilton and Tippecanoe counties whispered “boo” and sent shudders up their flexible spines. Looking for a quick exit and offered a choice among doors marked “Ignore ‘em,” “Repeal it” and “Surrender,” they quite predictably rushed through door no. 3.

By amending the RFRA bill to exclude from its provisions any defense against infringement on religious liberty at the demand of the LGBT community, Republican legislators turned the principle at stake on its head and implicitly conceded what they had previously denied: That the measure as drafted authorized “discrimination” against gays. Having made this concession, they made inevitable the incorporation at the next session of the General Assembly of LGBT as a protected class under the Indiana Civil Rights Act.

Thanks to Senator David Long and Speaker Brian Bosma, the gay lobby ended up the legislative session with the best of both worlds: It won on the substance of the matter immediately at issue, and it was assured success in achieving its ultimate legislative objective but was afforded 12 months to continue agitating the issue to the presumed benefit of the Democratic Party.

Governor Pence is in a tough spot, and it wasn’t social conservatives who put him there. They will, nonetheless, be expected to pay the price for the unforced errors of the governor and Republican legislators. I can hear it now: “Suck it up, conservatives: with your help we can whack 0.05 percent off the marginal tax rate.”

— Tom Charles Huston

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