Polanco Politics: Perilous Religious Freedom Restoration Act

Capture_J C Polanco_2015

Lessons From Indiana

by J.C. Polanco, Esq., MBA

Last month, after signing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) into law, Indiana Governor Mike Pence stepped on a hornet’s nest of widespread opposition.

Rarely have we seen such strange bedfellows and diverse interests unite and express such disdain for a piece of legislation. From Apple to the NCAA to NASCAR to fellow conservative governors quickly pressuring Governor Pence to amend the act to proscribe unfettered discrimination against gay and lesbians.

I’m a Catholic. And as a Catholic, I wouldn’t expect the government to permit me to use my religion as reason to discriminate against others.   Abortion, divorce, homosexuality, birth control, and premarital sex are all big no-nos in my faith.

Should the government allow me to discriminate against a single mom who’s had an abortion, is now divorced and lives with her lesbian partner? Should I be allowed not to serve, hire or lease an apartment to her? Should I be allowed to use my Catholic faith as a defense for my blatant discrimination? No! That would be unAmerican. But that’s clearly what President Clinton and Democratic congressional leaders did when he signed into law the federal RFRA in 1993. Since then, some twenty states codified into state law what President Clinton signed into federal law.

And now, like a legion of Pontius Pilates, Democrats nationwide have seized the opportunity to wash their hands of their responsibility in this fiasco. Liberals have lost their minds painting Republicans as ignorant bigots on this issue. Nice try.

During his two terms, President Clinton did little to advance LGBT civil liberties. Those Democrat  moral relativists who claim, “we were in a different time defense” then must forgive Clinton for his Don’t Ask Don’t Tell military policy and the Defense of Marriage Act.  It must be the twinkle in Bill Clinton’s eyes or his adept use of the “Jedi mind trick” that fools LGBT activists into believing Republican leaders are the anti-gay boogie men in the closet.

Ironically, it has been Republicans who have advanced LGBT rights as governors from Utah to Arkansas have moved to end anti-gay discrimination but we didn’t hear a peep from the Democrats allies in the media. Here, in  New York under a GOP-controlled  state Senate that a handful of brave Republican senators risked their seats we saw marriage equality pass into law. A previous Democrat-controlled state Senate had neither the leadership nor the ability to make marriage equality a reality.

We learned from the debacle in Indiana was that there’s a thin line between respecting religious liberties and tolerating an opportunity for bigotry to manifest itself. People in Indiana aren’t anti-gay bigots. However, it’s a perception that passed for reality.

We also learned how ridiculous some pandering politicians and business leaders can be. Our own Governor Cuomo banned non-essential state travel to Indiana while ignoring the hypocrisy of his planned trip to Cuba, a country notorious for its ill treatment of the LGBT Cubans. Apple’s Tim Cook who decried Indiana’s law as dangerous yet his firm continues sells his products in Saudi Arabia and Nigeria, nations where homosexuality is a capital offense.

We should acknowledge that both political parties share blame for shameful anti-LGBT policies, let’s stop playing silly political finger-pointing games. The truth is LGBT issues are divisive; test our Constitution, tolerance and compromise of personal faiths and morals.

Our nation is increasingly shifting towards a greater acceptance of LGBT rights as state and federal courts are ruling in favor of marriage equality. It is time that focus our energies on moving forward and protecting all Americans from unchecked discrimination.

Juan Carlos “J.C.” Polanco, a former Bronx Commissioner and President of the NYC Board of Elections, is an attorney, the NYC Regional Director for the State Assembly Minority Leader and teaches at the City University of New York. J.C. appears regularly on NY1 Inside City Hall, Pura Politica, CNN, Fox News, Bronxnet Open and Univision 41.

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