"There's something very dangerous happening in states across the country," Apple chief executive Tim Cook warned Monday in a Washington Post opinion piece against Indiana's newly passed Religious Freedom Restoration Act. It matters not to the corporate big shot that President Bill Clinton signed a federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 1993 (which current House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi supported) or that then-Illinois state Sen. Barack Obama voted for a similar law in 1998.
It was one thing for Democrats to support religious freedom when there was no downside to standing up for the devout. Today there could be a cost. An Indiana baker might refuse to sell a wedding cake to a same-sex couple and cite the new law if the couple were to sue him or her. Cook believes that such discrimination would be "bad for business." I agree. Cook also believes that the baker wouldn't have the right to say no. I do not agree with that.
When Obama first ran for the White House, he supported a ban on same-sex marriage. If Cook had a problem with Obama's stand, he kept it to himself. Years later, Obama announced that his position had evolved and he had come to support same-sex marriage. Voila: Now anyone who disagrees with same-sex marriage is a bigot and thus has no rights.
Except religious dissenters do have rights. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized that family-owned corporations have religious rights. In the 5-4 Hobby Lobby decision, the big bench recognized CEO David Green's right to get around an Affordable Care Act mandate that his employer-sponsored health plan offer employees contraceptives that, Green argued, "risk killing an embryo."
Last year, federal court rulings legalized same-sex marriage in Indiana. In a more tolerant world, the court rulings would leave gay couples free to marry and religious dissenters free to not cater same-sex weddings. Each side would win the right to be true to itself.
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, a Republican, was no profile in courage when he appeared Sunday on ABC's "This Week." Host George Stephanopoulos repeatedly asked Pence whether the law he signed last week would allow a florist to refuse to serve a gay couple at their wedding. "Yes or no?" Stephanopoulos asked. Pence would not give a simple answer -- that a florist could use the new law if a gay couple were to sue him.
Pence did ask, "Is tolerance a two-way street or not?" The answer from corporate boardrooms appears to be "not."
Pence -- who may be thinking of running for the White House himself -- obviously sees powerful forces aligned against him. Angie's List announced it was stopping a major project in Indianapolis. Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff tweeted, "We are canceling all programs that require our customers/employees to travel to Indiana to face discrimination." (The Federalist's Mollie Hemingway was amused that Benioff stood up to Indiana while doing business with China, a bastion of human rights abuses.)
"Opposing discrimination takes courage," Cook wrote. He has the Democratic Party, some Republicans, Hollywood and CEO-dom on his side -- and they completely outgun true believers who oppose same-sex marriage. They're not standing up to China; they're standing up to Hoosier Christian florists.
They think they're brave when they're rank bullies for whom it's not enough to win; they have to make dissenters buckle.