Back in 2000, journalist William Greider wrote something that immediately resonated with me as being an accurate statement about the way society’s views change on major issues. He said:
An enduring truth, a wise friend once explained to me, is that important social change nearly always begins in hypocrisy. First, the powerful are persuaded to say the appropriate words, that is, to sign a commitment to higher values and decent behavior. Then social activists must spend the next ten years pounding on them, trying to make them live up to their promises or persuading governments to enact laws that will compel them to do so.
The kernel of the first sentence, that “Important social change nearly always begins in hypocrisy” I have christened as Greider’s Rule because although he credits that insight to a wise friend, that person is anonymous.
Greider was writing in the context of the widespread protests in 2000 against the ravages of globalization and the resulting promises by governments and transnational corporations to promote human rights, the environment, and worker protections. Were those promises sincere? That still remains to be seen. But he noted that the fact that such promises were even being made were a significant step forward in getting there because it signified a significant shift in attitudes, that political leaders had realized that the public were demanding more than what they had been willing to give.
We see Greider’s Rule in operation now in the context of the last-ditch opposition to giving the LGBT community protection against discrimination. The passage of the law in Indiana that allows businesses to use religion as a defense if they do not want to serve LGBT members of the public has created a storm of protest all over the nation. Domenico Montanaro had a good analysis of the way that the Indiana law went beyond the federal RFRA statute.
The law affected the tourism and business convention industry as many groups threatened to withdraw their intentions to host events in the state. As a result, the governor of Arkansas had to call for modifications of a similar bill in that state and a similar bill in Georgia has stalled. Nevada’s proposed law has also been declared dead.
In response, the governor of the Indiana then called upon the legislature to ‘clarify’ the law so that it makes it clear that it does not allow discrimination.
The compromise legislation specifies that the new religious freedom law cannot be used as a legal defense to discriminate against patrons based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The proposal goes much further than a “preamble” that was proposed earlier in the week, and, if it stands, would be the first time any protections against discrimination have been extended to gays and lesbians in state law. But it doesn’t go as far as establishing gays and lesbians as a protected class of citizens statewide or repealing the law outright, both things that Republican leaders have said they could not support.
A draft circulated said the new “religious freedom” law does not authorize a provider — including businesses or individuals — to refuse to offer or provide its services, facilities, goods, or public accommodation to any member of the public based on sexual orientation or gender identity, in addition to race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, disability, sex, or military service.
The proposed language exempts churches or other nonprofit religious organizations — including affiliated schools — from the definition of “provider.” Later Wednesday, additional language was added to include protections in housing and employment.
So we had the odd spectacle of a law that was originally anti-gay in intent ending up specifying more explicitly ways in which gays could not be discriminated against, although it is still a bad piece of legislation. Neither side is happy about the compromise.
The clarifying language is likely to rile socially conservative advocacy groups, which hold significant sway among Republicans at the Statehouse and pushed hard for the religious freedom law after a failed legislative effort last year to enshrine a same-sex marriage ban in the state constitution.
At the same time, opponents of the law argued the clarification being discussed does not go far enough.
Katie Blair, campaign manager for Freedom Indiana, said in a statement Wednesday that the draft bill should include a guarantee that the RFRA “cannot be used to undermine any nondiscrimination protections,”
So while these bills are being introduced in the states as a last ditch attempt to fight the tide in favor of equal rights for the LGBT community, what is interesting is that everyone, even the most ardent supporters of the legislation, went out of their way to say that they oppose discrimination against gays and that they were only protecting the rights of religion. I don’t believe that for a minute. These kinds of legislation are based on religious condemnations of homosexuality and nothing more, and what they seek to do is to provide legal protection for those who wish to discriminate against gays.
But the fact that they have to publicly disavow any such intent is Greider’s Rule in action because we are at the stage where every political leader has to state that discrimination against the LGBT community is bad, even as they still try to oppose things like same-sex marriage. That does not mean that they will follow through on those statements, especially when under pressure from groups that want to perpetuate discrimination, but it does mean that they now have very little wiggle room between their words and actions.
Garrett Epps has been following these developments closely and says that while he understands the unease of Christians about the social changes taking place, they will benefit from them in the long run.
I know that people of faith are tormented by some of these changes—just as some of my Christian neighbors in the 1960s were tormented by the civil-rights challenge to their views of the Bible. But equality and an open society are, in the end, usually better even for those who fear them. I learned that lesson in the South half a century ago, watching a white community terrified of racial change emerge from its chrysalis not only unhurt but enriched. That experience convinced me that any human inequality supported by law is a dangerous and unstable flaw in the fabric of democracy, and that the result of lifting artificial barriers is usually renewed energy, solidarity, and progress.