Friday, March 27, 2015

The cost of "freedom"

This begins early on a Tuesday morning in Indianapolis, in a ballroom in the Marriott across the street from the old Convention Center/Hoosier Dome. A frayed bunch of  national media types are sitting around tables, picking at the late-night/early-morning spread. It's their way of taking the edge off the annual insanity that is deadline on the night of the NCAA championship basketball game.

The man with the floor is Bob Ryan, the Hall of Fame basketball writer for the Boston Globe.

"I love Indianapolis," he's saying. "They could hold the Final Four here every year for all I care."

A silent chorus of nods all around. Yes, the national media loves Indianapolis. It's friendly, it's efficient, the entire event is almost ridiculously self-contained. And downtown has enough quality restaurants to keep even the culinary snobs happy -- not that there are all that many in a fraternity for which the stadium/arena/ballpark hotdog is one of the four major food groups.

Wonder what they're all thinking today.

Actually, there is no reason to wonder; the reaction is coming from everywhere. Indiana, world headquarters for assbackward, has surrendered again to its worst impulses. The lege passed, and, behind closed doors, Gov. Mike Pence signed into law a bullheaded measure that its supporters claim is benign but whose very existence shouts otherwise --  in essence, if not in actual fact.

And now the backlash. A $50 million convention bailing on Indy. At least one billion-dollar corporation reconsidering whether it wants to do business here. And the president of the NCAA, Mark Emmert, saying that the organization is going to have to reconsider basing its headquarters in Indy, or ever playing a Final Four again in one of the national media's favorite Final Four sites.

Perception matters. And so while the Religious Freedom Restoration Act probably won't result in businesses closing their doors to gays on religious grounds -- the rhetoric has grown absurdly overheated in that regard -- it once again demonstrated that Indiana's antipathy toward gays is very real. When you spend as much tax money as the state spent fighting its gay citizens' right to be treated as equals under the law, and then react to losing the same-sex marriage fight by introducing a gilding-the-lily measure that protects freedoms already guaranteed by the Constitution ...

Well. You get what you pay for, as they say. And the price for Indiana is it no longer gets the benefit of the doubt on this. The state may not in fact have anything against gay people, but it sure as hell acts like it does.

And so the NCAA's reaction to this is not at all an overreaction. Nor will the NFL's be when it starts considering whether to bring another Super Bowl to Indy, no matter how flawlessly the city pulled it off in 2012.

Pence and his ilk can shout from the rooftops that 19 other states have laws that are some form of  Indiana's new law. But the timing of it, plus the fact the governor signed it under what amounted to the cover of darkness, makes the motives behind this particular measure suspect. It may well be only a guideline aimed at "government overreach" in conflicts over the exercise of one's religious faith. But given Indiana's previous actions, how do people not think the state will use "government overreach" as an excuse to override local statutes prohibiting discrimination based on sexual preference?

Perception matters. And the perception here is that Indiana sees its gay citizens as some sort of "threat" to people of faith. In truth, there is no such threat. The law is superfluous. So why, then?

Can't blame the NCAA, or anyone else, for asking that question.

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