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Indiana Gov. Mike Pence Continues to Dodge the Discrimination Question

03/31/2015 02:31 pm ET | Updated May 31, 2015
Bloomberg via Getty Images

If there's an upside to Gov. Mike Pence (R-IN) signing the pro-discrimination SB101 "Religious Freedom Restoration Act" (RFRA) into law last week, it's this: the bigots, homophobes and neo-segregationists have been coaxed out of the woodwork, exposing themselves for what they really believe. My Twitter feed is festooned with these people, now more than ever -- not even during the Hobby Lobby debate have they swarmed like they are today. Elsewhere, an audio recording has been circulating that a restaurant owner who called into an Indianapolis radio station and, despite the incredulity and shocked horror of the deejays, discussed how he's always discriminated against gay customers, and now this law will legitimize his anti-gay policy.

It seems the only anti-gay conservative who isn't currently owning his pro-discrimination position is Mike Pence himself. On ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos, Pence was asked eight times whether this law would allow businesses to discriminate against gay people -- "yes or no." Eight times in an 11-minute segment, and Pence refused to answer every time. By the sixth or seventh time, I expected Stephanopoulos to shout, "Don't wait for the translation! Yes or no?"

Instead, Pence droned on and on, suggesting that the press was "trying to make this something else." Actually, it was Eric Miller, the chief lobbyist responsible for the RFRA who explicitly defined the law as pro-discrimination:

Christian bakers, florists and photographers should not be punished for refusing to participate in a homosexual marriage!

Note the exclamation mark. When Stephanopoulos quoted Miller, Pence refused to respond and said that everyone who's making this about discrimination is engaging in a "gross mischaracterization." But it's not just the press or Stephanopoulos -- it's the guy who pushed the law through the Indiana legislature who defined it in these terms.

Pence went on to note that then-State Senator Barack Obama voted for an RFRA in Illinois, but Stephanopoulos called him on this ham-fisted deflection, noting that sexual orientation enjoys civil rights protections in Illinois. Indiana has no such protections. When Stephanopoulos asked Pence whether he'd support similar protections in Indiana, just to help clarify the intent of the law, Pence said he wouldn't -- that doing so isn't part of his agenda. Again, how is the discrimination motive a "gross mischaracterization" of the RFRA when Pence flatly refuses to carve out civil rights protections for LGBT citizens?

Then there was the big counterattack. Pence attempted to hit the opponents of the RFRA for, themselves, being intolerant of religious people, saying, "Tolerance is a two-way street." Tolerance for what? Discrimination? Homophobia? If so, sure -- I'm guilty. Likewise, I have zero tolerance for anyone who discriminates against mixed-race couples and weddings, irrespective of the litany of Bible verses opposing "miscegenation." While we're here, I also have very little tolerance for self-proclaimed Christians who cherry-pick and exploit the Bible to cynically conform to their antiquated biases.

Here's precisely why this is about discrimination. A baker or florist who exclusively objects to the alleged "sin" of gay marriage, while serving all other sinner weddings is by definition discriminatory. In other words, to not be discriminatory, a bakery or other business would have to refuse service to all sinners, not just the so-called sinners who happen to be gay. Otherwise, the baker is singling out one class of people, and that's precisely what discrimination is.

No one's forcing Jewish delis to sell ham, and no one's telling Christian bookstores they have to sell Bill Maher's Religulous film. But as long as businesses enjoy legal protections, tax advantages and public services paid for by straight and gay taxpayers alike, they ought to serve or not serve all customers equally. Feel free to enforce a strict "no shirt, no shoes, no sinners" policy as long as it applies to everyone, regardless of race, social status or sexual orientation.

To repeat: if a business-owner has issues with anyone they happen to define as a sinner, that business ought to expand its "no sinners" policy to include refusing service to coveters, adulterers, beardless men (Governor Pence?), obese people, egomaniacs, liars, greedy people, Pagans, witches, unmarried heterosexual couples, astrologers, anyone who says "God!" in vain, lazy people, and generally anyone who doesn't love others as they love themselves. I don't know, maybe have a questionnaire at the door. That's equality.

Matthew 7 teaches us: "Judge not, that you be not judged." Good Christians -- Christians who are concerned about not violating the word of God might want to take Matthew a little more seriously, rather than leaning too desperately and ignorantly on Paul's letters or the myriad rules in Leviticus (by the way, Jesus had a thing or two to say about Levitical law, and Paul wrote against judging others, too -- more on this later in the week). These Christians might also want to take a serious look at the real reason why they might not want to serve LGBT customers. Is it really the Bible, which says literally nothing about whether it's a sin to serve gay customers? Or is it about unfairly and extra-biblically judging and discriminating against those customers solely because these business-owners don't like gay people? And at the end of the day, if it's really about disapproving of gay people, and not religion after all, these alleged Christians ought to reflect on the severity of bearing false witness against their neighbors by citing religious objections. Not that I'm judging. Just suggesting.

Meanwhile, I have a question for Governor Pence: if I buy a farm in Indiana, how much will it cost me to purchase some slaves to work it for free, as authorized by Timothy 6:1, Ephesians 6:5, Titus 2:9 and 1 Peter 2:18?

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