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Americans having 'A ha!' moment over Indiana, Arkansas, and this week's anti-LGBT #RFRA fiasco

by Jeremy Hooper

Like anyone involved in politics, and particularly its "culture war" offshoot, I've dedicated the bulk of this week's thinking and opining to the subject of the so-called "religious freedom" bills that have been in the news in a *MAJOR* way. But unlike others, this is not a subject that is new to me. I've been thinking about these license-to-discriminate initiatives for years, and have given them particular focus in the two years since the anti-LGBT movement began prioritizing them. For me, this week was a culmination and likely a turning point, but it wasn't anything new or surprising.

What I realized, though, is that this is largely, if not completely, new information for the vast majority of the American public. Sure, people have likely heard a thing or two about the bakers or florists who have objected to same-sex weddings, and they've likely formed a casual opinion on that subject. For the most part, however, unless you have been working in the anti-LGBT movement, where this concerted attempt to pass state-by-state "religious freedom" bills precisely so such vendors can discrimination against same-sex couples, or if you work in the pro-equality movement, where we long ago pinpointed exactly what this push is meant to do, you've likely been able to avoid deep analysis of the particulars.

This struck me yesterday as I watched and listened to a few different interview. NPR is one adult audio stream that I can squeeze in between the Raffi and Disney tunes that usually fill the background ambience of my kid-centric weekdays. Yesterday, I heard four or five different interviews on both the local (my affiliate is WNYC) and national level. In many, if not most, of the situations where an interviewer checked in with one of these "religious freedom" law's defenders, what I heard were radio personalities who seemed to be almost piecing together on-air the fact that these folks truly do want to discriminate, but just call it another name (e.g. "practicing faith in the public square" or "refraining from celebrating a wedding ceremony). The interviewers would make statements like "gay rights activists claim you want to turn away gay couples from florists or bakeries," with the expectation that the other side would want to shoot down those claims. But what the other side would say instead was some sort of variation of, "yes, but..." For instance, here's a segment from "Morning Edition" in which host Steven Inskeep brings on a pastor with the interest of clarity and understanding, but what the pastor seems to be providing Inskeep (and I'd argue many listeners) is insight into what these laws are really all about:

I felt the same way when watching Fox News host Megyn Kelly host viciously anti-LGBT pundit Tony Perkins on her show. Let me first note the continued annoyance with Fox News, and Megyn Kelly specifically, for hosting Tony Perkins in conversations where they act like he, one of the most LGBT-hostile people in American politics, is simply a conservative pundit. And yes, there are moments of this interview where the Fox News host does some of the Fox News-y things that made that network famous. But what actually strikes me most is the fact that Kelly and Perkins almost seem to be having separate conversations. She keeps raising the idea of nondiscrimination and insisting that this is what LGBT activists should seek, almost as if she's expecting her guest to be like, "well yes, that's key." But what she gets instead is a guest who actively opposes that idea, WHICH IS THE VERY REASON HE WANTS THESE 'RELIGIOUS FREEDOM" LAWS IN THE FIRST PLACE:

Kelly is one of those who can surprise you (like when she admitted Perkins arguments are all limited to/by his bible thumping). I'd like to think that Tony once again helped her have her own lightbulb moment about this "religious freedom" drive. Maybe; maybe not.

However, I really do believe that public at large is really starting to hear a standard that, when unpacked, is unsupportable and untenable in every way. People don't need to be told what discrimination is; American has a long and ugly history with it. I know the anti-LGBT troops think they're pulling the wool over people's eyes with this ridiculous notion that turning away certain clients from wedding-based services based solely on who they are as people is something other than discrimination, but I just can't see how that can play out in their favor for long. Not anymore, now that people are actually listening.

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