This week we saw two conservative GOP governors, Mike Pence in Indiana and Arkansas’ Asa Hutchinson find out how things have changed over the years. Pence signed a religious freedom act into law, only to turn around in less than a week and instruct his General Assembly to administer a fix to make clear “the law does not allow businesses the right to deny services to anyone.”
The backlash was monumental in both Indiana and Arkansas both quickly changed the laws they were at first blush going to make the states law. Hutchinson like Pence was left asking his states lawmakers for two tweaks so there would be no daylight between his state’s law and the one President Bill Clinton signed in 1993.
“I think it’s sending the right signal, the way this has been resolved, to the world and the country that Arkansas understands the diversity of our culture and workforce but also the importance of balancing that with our sincerely held religious convictions,” Hutchinson said Thursday afternoon.
While, Pence kept saying that the Indiana law was the same as the bill then President Bill Clinton signed law in reality it was not. Hutchinson a fellow resident of the state Arkansas knew for a fact that the law that both he and Pence had on their desk’s was not the same as the Clinton law.
So, what made them different?
The federal law signed by President Bill Clinton, and the similar Religious Freedom Restoration Acts (RFRAs.) in 19 other states, do not say they apply to businesses, or corporations, but the law applies only to individual people.
The laws say the government has to prove a higher standard of government interest in applying laws that may infringe on a person’s free exercise of their religion. In Indiana, SB 101 also included “corporations” in the list of entities that can sue.
Meanwhile, behind the scenes the national Republican Party knows that fighting any gay rights issues is a losing battle.
Less than 10 years ago, George W. Bush, the last Republican to go on to win the presidency traveled conservative America touting a series of “one man, one woman” state constitutional amendments. Now, as more than a dozen men and women plot paths to the GOP nomination, America’s position on same-sex marriage has shifted—dramatically. Not only is it legal in most states for couples who are gay to marry, but most voters now support their right to do so—in over 100 polls taken in 2012-2014 support is strong that in some cases those polled favored gay marriage by well over 50 percent.
Republican’s themselves are working to reshape the party in the area of gay rights, case in point is a national campaign led by Jerri Ann Henry of the well-funded Washington-based Young Conservatives for the Freedom to Marry. His group is at work in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada, where advocates and volunteers are lobbying local party leaders, arguing on conservative talk radio, and hosting receptions for politically active voters.
Jeff Angelo, a former state senator who is now chairman of Iowa Republicans for Freedom, a pro-gay-marriage group. He has joined Henry in the battle to change the dynamic in the Republican Party. Recently at a press event in Des Moines, he spoke about what their goals were, starting in Iowa.
It marks a significant turn of events for a party whose uniform opposition to gay marriage has been the norm. “We went from having this monolithic appearance about the Republican Party, ‘Oh, the Republican Party is against marriage equality,’ to, well, here are activists who are meeting about marriage equality,” Angelo says. “That’s something new in the state.”
An NBC News / Wall Street Journal poll this month found a record high 59 percent of respondents support same-sex marriage, and it’s just one of many recent surveys that show public support sitting comfortably over 50 percent.
Bottom-line no one expects the Republican party to be leading the way gay rights. However, there will be some in the party who will likely vote Democratic because of the GOP’s lack of tolerance on social issues. “There will be Republican voters who trust the party on economics, who trust the party on national defense, but they might have a gay brother or a lesbian daughter, and even though they agree with the Republican Party on other issues, that is a deal-breaker,” says Tyler Deaton, senior adviser to the pro-gay-marriage American Unity Fund, an influential organization backed by Republican hedge-fund billionaire Paul Singer. “And that’s a deal-breaker for more American voters than ever before.”