Indiana has passed a new law that most experts claim would make it easy for any business to refuse to serve gay people, on the grounds that the business owners could claim that they oppose homosexuals for moral reasons. And Governor Mike Pence has now signed the law.
The law has been condemned widely across the business, entertainment and rights communities nationally. The Governors of Connecticut and Washington have gotten into the act by proposing a ban on state employees traveling to Indiana. CEOs from Apple, Angie’s List and Salesforce have condemned the law.
Meanwhile, the governor of Indiana has faced a barrage of media inquiry, mostly unsuccessfully. When pressed repeatedly to explain if the purpose and effect of the law was to make it easy for business people who hate gays to refuse to do business with them and to discriminate them, the Governor has danced around the issue in unconvincing manner.
The governor is now in a tough spot. He can push to change the law and to clarify that gays cannot be discriminated again, thus alienating and angering his conservative Christian base. Or he can keep the law as is, and alienate the vast majority of liberal and moderate American businesses, government entities, and institutions, thus creating economic boycotts of his state.
The other problem for Pence is that he harbors national political ambitions and has been talked about as a 2016 GOP candidate. Since Pence is not well known nationally, this issue is defining him as “that guy who wants to help homophobes hate gays.” And that isn’t helpful as a cornerstone of a national political brand, regardless of what party you are in.
Pence and his allies have backed themselves into a corner. It shows once again that the best way to handle yourself in the media during a crisis is to have thought through all your actions in advance, before you’ve created a crisis for yourself in the first place.