Why Indiana Should Have Followed Utah’s Lead

Jonathan Rauch admits that the hysteria over Indiana’s religious-freedom law is overblown but says Mike Pence could have avoided trouble by looking to Utah for a better model of compromise between religious-conscience accommodations and gay rights.

Writes Rauch in a TIME op-ed:

Gay people, of course, see themselves as the losers when one-sided laws like Indiana’s pass. It is not they, however, who will pay the steepest price. No, that dubious honor belongs to the religious conservatives who have chosen this one-sided state strategy. By lobbying for businesses’ right to boycott gay customers, they are writing a suicide note to Americans under 30, whose first commandment is: Thou Shalt Not Discriminate. And by identifying religious-liberty protections with the intent to discriminate, they are demolishing the social consensus for the very accommodations they seek.

There’s a better path. We saw it taken in Utah just a few weeks ago. The state passed new religious-conscience accommodations, but they were tied to new gay-rights protections. Both sides walked away feeling more free to live according to the lights of their consciences. Both got a win and supported the outcome.

That win-win, negotiated model, not Indiana’s heads-I-win, tails-you-lose model, is the path to a social consensus that safeguards religious freedom. And in America, lest we forget, real civil-rights protections, the kind that last, come not from laws or courts but from consensus.