Just 10 years ago, it went without saying for Republicans that they would win elections while defending anti-gay positions. The outcry raised by Indiana and its sneaky law on religious freedom is shutting down this automatic mechanism. It is evidence of the healthy divorce that has taken place between conservative law and American public opinion.
The law in question is sneaky in that it does not exactly give individuals and businesses permission to discriminate against the gay and lesbian community, but it does make it possible to do so in the name of defending freedom of religion – and therefore of certain values. The Republican governor of Indiana has resigned himself to promising to “clarify” his law of “religious freedom restoration” before the extraordinary wave of opposition that it raised, not only within civil society, but also in the large business response mobilized by Wal-Mart and Apple. Immediately afterward, the governor of Arkansas, whose government just adopted a similar law, also took a step back.
The governor of Indiana denied his discriminatory aims in vain; it remains that the principal promoters of the law have made it clear that this was about “protecting “the churches and Christian enterprises from those who support gay marriage.”* The goal is clear. The adoption of laws on religious liberty goes back to the beginning of the 1990s in the United States, first by the federal government, then in 20 states. In the beginning, they were above all meant to protect religious minorities, namely Native American communities that used psychotropic drugs. And they went hand in hand with anti-discriminatory legislation – which was not the case in Indiana and Arkansas. So we see that, more recently, conservative organizations have begun to use these laws to promote their intolerance in a social context where, in fact, gay rights are more and more recognized and accepted.
Opposing same-sex marriage was a great help to former President George W. Bush in winning the 2004 presidential elections, which he did by an extremely small margin. In an effort to mobilize their electorate, the Republicans held referendums on gay marriage at the same time as the presidential polls in 11 key states, including the absolutely crucial state of Ohio, where Mr. Bush just barely won the 20 electoral votes, with 51 percent of the vote.
Times have obviously changed. Today, gay marriage is legal in 37 states and the District of Columbia: a cultural metamorphosis, which many “experts” attribute to the role of social media. More and more voters, including moderate Republicans, are turned off by politicians who attack the LGBT community as a political strategy. It is a cultural change, then, but it has not stopped the principal presumptive candidates for the Republican nominations for the 2016 elections – including the leader, Jeb Bush – from supporting the Indiana law, while denying that it could be discriminatory. It goes to show just how far the Republican Party will go in continuing, despite everything, to obey the spirit of another time and to rely on their traditional core electorate – older white Christians. Will the ground end up giving way under their feet?
Yet, this does not mean that the Democrats are radically more open. If today they are applying themselves to keeping score against the Republicans when it comes to this issue, it remains that they too have long been feeble in their position, out of fear of alienating themselves from voters. This feebleness includes the opportunist Hillary Clinton, who opposed gay marriage until 2013.
*Editor’s note: This quote, accurately translated, could not be verified.