A year or two ago my wife and I traveled to northeast Pennsylvania to visit my parents and family. When we crossed the Delaware River on I-84 we turned to one another and said, “Well, guess we’re not married anymore!”
And we laughed, since crossing a border into a non marriage-equality state didn’t really invalidate our marriage, but still somewhere deep in the pit of my stomach a tiny ball of worry formed.
What if something happened? What if we needed to see one another in the hospital? Would anyone give us trouble? Should we try not to hold hands in public? Should I use the word “wife” or something else? Would we be safe?
Those are all the little calculations you have to make when you’re in a non-heterosexual relationship — or, really, in any relationship people don’t see as “normal.” Usually, nothing happens and things are fine. But those little worries still take up space in my head even here in the privileged confines of relatively LGBT-friendly Connecticut; I can’t imagine what LGBT people in Indiana, where an act that uses religious freedom to allow discrimination against them was recently passed, have been going through over the past few weeks.
That’s why it’s gratifying to see so much outrage over Indiana’s new “religious freedom” act, which is about religious freedom in the way that the Civil War was about states’ rights; a pleasant, harmless-sounding theory covering for something far more vile.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has been leading the charge, ordering a first-in-the-nation ban on government-funded travel to Indiana and making the rounds of national political talk shows blasting Indiana Gov. Mike Pence for being a “bigot,” among other things. Celebrities and others have started boycotting the state, and corporations like Salesforce and Angie’s List are threatening to take their dollars elsewhere.
And, amazingly, Indiana’s government is showing signs of cracking. The Indiana legislature has come up with a speedy “veto a similar “religious freedom” bill.
I’m not usually hot on the idea of boycotts and aiming the national media’s outrage generation machine at governments that condone bigotry. That kind of action often comes from a place of smug blue-state superiority, rarely adds up to more than just empty threats, and usually just ends up hurting the vulnerable people who are already there. The outrage always moves on, and once the spotlights turn off, the bigots can do what they like.
But in this one specific case the stars seem to have aligned. I don’t have high hopes for progressive change in Indiana — Pence has ruled out passing a real anti-discrimination bill — but at least maybe this noxious bill will go away and prevent life from getting worse for Indiana’s LGBT population. It’s not nothing.
As for what Gov. Malloy is doing in the middle of all of this, it’s a combination of things. Sure, he’s partly motivated by what I think is a sincere belief in LGBT equality, but it doesn’t hurt that he’s the incoming chair of the Democratic Governors Association. There’s a certain kind of Democratic activist and donor who really appreciates someone who goes on TV and is outspoken in the face of what they see as typical Republican politics, even if the tone is a little shrill. Next year, when Malloy is flying around the country trying to raise money to elect Democrats to governorships, this may come in handy.
Whatever his reasons, I was glad to see him out there. If nothing else, it’s a reassuring sign of the sometimes sudden, sometimes quiet but surprisingly resilient changes of the past decade.
Ten years ago we were just coming off the disaster of the 2004 election, when the Bush campaign drove red state voters to the polls by waving marriage equality bans in front of them. Now those bans are falling like dead leaves in a strong wind, struck down by court after court. More Americans support marriage equality than those who don’t, and gays and lesbians are finding their way toward the mainstream.
The work isn’t over, of course. This year has seen an alarming number of bills introduced to keep transgender people out of public bathrooms that match their gender identity, including one here in Connecticut. But I hold on to this: in 2014, Pennsylvania’s courts overturned their marriage ban. They married in Wilkes-Barre, they married in Hazleton, and they married in Scranton.
So hold on to hope, Indiana. Because every once in a great while this ruthless, mean country of ours can surprise you.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
DISCLAIMER: The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com.