It’s no news that support for abortion rights is stagnant while gay rights become ever more popular. Two stories out of Indiana illustrate the diverging fortunes of these two crucial progressive causes. When Governor Mike Pence signed his state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), permitting secular businesses to refuse to serve LGBT people on religious grounds, there was an immediate furor. Conventions threatened to relocate. The CEOs of Angie’s List and Salesforce, both Indiana-based businesses, signed an open letter criticizing the law. A wide range of business leaders, celebrities, and honchos spoke out, including the heads of Apple, Walmart, Yelp, NASCAR—NASCAR!—and the NCAA. The governors of Connecticut, Washington and New York banned state-funded travel to Indiana, as did the mayors of Washington, DC; Denver; and San Francisco. On Twitter, #BoycottIndiana became popular enough to spawn a backlash against trendy blue-state liberals who had probably never even been to the state and knew nothing about it. “LGBT people and equality allies live and work in this state too, and right now they need our support and our presence more than ever,” wrote Kristen Clodfelter in Salon. As has been noted, the part of the state that would suffer most from a a boycott is the cash-starved Democratic stronghold of Indianapolis, which has a local ordinance protecting LGBT people from discrimination; the Republicans who run state government would be thrilled to see the city smoldering in ruins.
#BoycottIndiana may have painted the state unfairly as a nest of bigots, but money talks. Within days, Pence called for a revision of RFRA that would prevent businesses and individuals from using the law as a license to discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity. After Walmart weighed in against a just-passed Arkansas RFRA, Governor Asa Hutchinson insisted on a similar fix, and Georgia dropped plans for a RFRA of its own. The revised laws bar businesses and individuals from discriminating against LGBT people, but fall short of making sexual orientation and gender identity a protected classification like race or sex or religion. Still, history is clearly on the march. Poll after poll shows increasing acceptance of LGBT people and same-sex marriage, especially among young people, even if they are evangelical. New York Times columnist David Brooks is sounding more and more out of touch as he begs LGBT people to exercise “tolerance, respect and gentle persuasion” toward bakers and photographers and others who won’t provide services for same-sex weddings. (It’s hard to not to have warm feelings for small-town family-business owners who deal in lovely things like cakes and flowers. But before you give them a pass, think about state clerks who won’t register gay weddings, adoption agencies who won’t accept LGBT people as clients, doctors like the pediatrician in Michigan who rejected a lesbian couple’s baby as a patient, and other less lovable representatives of “deeply held religious beliefs.”)
Contrast Governor Pence’s quick retreat on RFRA with last week’s other big Indiana story: Purvi Patel’s twenty-year sentence for feticide and child neglect. Patel, 33, who lived with her conservative Hindu parents and hid her pregnancy from them out of shame, says she had a miscarriage that resulted in a still birth; when she started to bleed heavily she went to the hospital and dropped the dead fetus in a dumpster along the way. Based on some text messages between Patel and a friend, the prosecutor claimed she had self-aborted with pills bought on the Internet; based on a discredited test, he argued the fetus was born alive. That Patel could be convicted both of killing a fetus and neglecting a child, which makes no sense at all, shows how determined prosecutors were to send her away.