In Indiana, Arkansas, North Carolina, Georgia, and now Mississippi, a disturbing trend has developed that should rattle any social conservative. Religious freedom laws in these states have been vigorously opposed by LGBT activists who claim they make it legal to discriminate against gays, but that doesn’t move the needle. What voters in these states are starting to realize is that when it comes to religious freedom, their most dangerous opponents are not protesters waving rainbow flags – they are major corporations.
Companies like Apple, Wal-Mart, and the NFL are among those who have brought considerable economic pressure to bear on Republican governors. Veto this bill, they say, or we’ll yank thousands of jobs out of your state before you know what happened. Caught between the will of the voters and the prospect of rough economic waters, Republicans have stumbled into a tough position. What comes first? Social conservatism or jobs?
In Mississippi, a new religious freedom law signed by Governor Phil Bryant will protect business owners from being forced into providing services to gay weddings. It comes as a result of cases in Oregon, Washington, and New York, where Christian entrepreneurs have been punished by the government for refusing to bake wedding cakes for same-sex ceremonies.
Gov. Bryant said the legislation would protect the “sincerely held religious beliefs and moral convictions of individuals, organizations and private associations from discriminatory action by state government.”
But even though the bill is supported by two-thirds of the Mississippi electorate, companies like Nissan and MGM Resorts International have condemned the law as discriminatory. This sets up a situation similar to the one we’ve seen in other states. In North Carolina, where the governor signed a bill revoking special bathroom privileges for transgenders, PayPal canceled a $3.6 million expansion in the state. In Georgia, the governor caved to intense pressure from big business.
Strangely, the Democrats who think that Citizens United should be overturned have no problem with companies exercising this kind of control over politics. In LiberalLand, super PAC commercials are a threat to democracy but outright economic blackmail is just fine. Well, as long as the companies are fighting for a cause like this, anyway. As soon as we see a company pull out of San Francisco in protest of their sanctuary policies, they’ll be singing a different tune.
It may be tempting to say, Well, we’re not going to win this fight. Better to save jobs than to push against the tide of social change. If you’re ambivalent about gay marriage, you might be especially inclined to this point of view.
The problem is, where does it end? If corporate America is allowed to overturn the will of the electorate in this instance, what will stop them next time? What if the next issue is abortion? Or guns?
Once we start giving in, giving in becomes the habit.