On March 26, 2015, Indiana Governor Mike Pence (R) signed a statewide "religious freedom bill" in private. He claimed that the bill had no elements of discrimination, especially towards sexual orientation. The bill was supported by religious leaders, many of whom tend to see LGBT rights from a far less tolerant perspective.
I signed SEA 101 today to ensure religious liberty is fully protected under IN law http://t.co/vCOASZBZnH pic.twitter.com/CMFJh6aLDx
— Governor Mike Pence (@GovPenceIN) March 26, 2015
A massive backlash ensued and Pence was forced to sign a RFRA (Religious Freedom Restoration Act) "Fix" within a week. Republican supporters, especially Governor Pence, were forced to modify some of the language in the original bill to satisfy business leaders in the state.
PENCE: "Over the past week this law has become a subject of great misunderstanding and controversy across our state and nation. However we got here, we are where we are, and it is important that our state take action to address the concerns that have been raised and move forward.
"Last weekend I called upon the Indiana General Assembly to clarify that this new judicial standard would not create a license to discriminate or to deny services to any individual as its critics have alleged. I am grateful for the efforts of legislators, business and other community leaders who came together to forge this clarifying language in the law.
The National Review downplayed the consequences of his audacity to openly allow for gay discrimination. The man who never seems to risk his credibility, no matter how wrong he is, Bill Kristol, believed Pence couldn't be harmed by this bill.
The great myth of this is that it’s a bunch of social conservatives or Christian conservatives [defending the governor],” Weekly Standard editor William Kristol says, noting that “a lot of libertarians also want to defend the principle” of religious liberty. “I think he actually has an opportunity to make both a socially conservative and libertarian case here,” Kristol continues. “Both for the religious freedom act and for freedom generally.”
Pence's discrimination did, however, hurt the state's business-friendly image, and money reigns supreme above all matters. The state was forced to hire outside PR to fix the anti-business friendly image now attached to Indiana, just two weeks after Pence signed the "Fix."
Indiana's economic development and tourism agencies announced Monday they have hired global PR firm Porter Novelli to help rebuild the state's image in the wake of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act debacle.
Now that it's 2016, an election year, we are seeing a shift in the climate of the gubernatorial race. These consequences, which Kristol and the like have greatly underestimated, have shifted a solid Red State like Indiana to a tossup contest.
By now, many had expected Pence to have rebounded from a botched attempt to pass a religious freedom law that spawned a pro-LGBT backlash among Democrats and the GOP-leaning business community. But a year later, Pence is still hobbled by that controversy, which remains unsettled due to pending legislation. Once seen as a rising GOP star with national ambitions, Pence can't seem to make anyone at either end of the spectrum -- and even those in the middle -- happy.
This stunt aimed at discrimination transformed Mike Pence from once possible GOP presidential candidate status to embattled right-wing governor seeking second term.