Gridlock? That's a Beltway thing. On the state level, where a lot of the real policy action takes place, divided government isn't so much of a problem, and so amazing things are happening. Or nightmarish things are happening. Your results may vary, depending on your political -- and maybe sexual -- orientation.
America is fast becoming two nations. Not rich and poor, or black and white...OK, maybe those things too. But it's also becoming a nation where stone-cold Tea Partiers rule in one town, while the dirty freaking hippies are in control just across the state line. The not-so-United States is a place where a gay couple in Seattle is smoking a joint and planning their wedding on the $15 an hour they make from McDonald's, where down the interstate in Arizona some modern incarnation of Yosemite Sam is chasing immigrants back toward the border with his six-shooter.
But what are we going to do about the formerly purple state known as Indiana, a state that threw America a giant head fake in 2008 by giving its electoral votes to Barack Obama, and then decided it was time to exit modernity, stage right? Just seven short years later, the Hoosier State has enacted arguably the most regressive state law since Sheriff Jim Clark was walking the beat in Selma.
Last week, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence -- visions of the White House in 2016 still dancing, however irrationally, in his head -- signed a so-called "religious freedom" law into the books, if by "religious freedom" you mean granting socially conservative business owners the right to not serve people based upon the customers' sexual orientation. This is actually an issue that's been kicking around for two decades -- Congress even passed a somewhat similar law in 1993 -- but the situation has added new urgency with the federal courts now mandating gay marriage in a number of so-called "red states."
And the Indiana bill is a little different. For one thing, it goes further than some of the earlier legislation in giving businesses the right to discriminate, while, yet again, bestowing the rights of personhood onto businesses. What's more, it overrides existing anti-discrimination laws in ways that earlier state "religious freedom" statutes -- even one that passed in ultra-conservative Texas -- did not. But what offends me most about Indiana is how, at a moment when so many Americans celebrate a new acceptance of different lifestyles, a large Midwestern state wants to follow the tired, well-trod path of intolerance.
Indiana's bogus notion of "religious freedom" manages to insult both freedom and religion at the same time. We're fortunate to live in a nation where all sort of beliefs are tolerated -- indeed, cherished. And while I personally could not feel more differently, the idea among some religions that homosexuality is a sin, and not sanctioned for its adherents, is part of what we traditionally tolerate. The belief. But we don't tolerate actions -- actions that threaten a civil society. We don't allow people to claim that their religion allows them to beat women or children, or commit murder, or deny medical aid to a child. And we don't give businesses a license in order to let them discriminate against Americans based on who they are.
So what is to be done in the case of Indiana?
A boycott of the state, as many have suggested, is not the way to go, because quite simply they usually don't work. You may remember that scores of athletes, entertainers, and businesses vowed to boycott Arizona after that state enacted a harsh anti-immigrant law in 2010, but the impact was minimal. It took court action, not economic sanctions, to strip the Arizona law of its most noxious elements. But doing nothing is not an option, either. America needs to make it clear that the actions of these lawmakers and a rogue governor in Indiana is not where we're at as a nation in 2015.
For better or worse, the spotlight falls on the corrupt holy temple of college sports, the NCAA. By a most unfortunate coincidence, the NCAA's nationally televised showcase -- the men's basketball Final Four -- tips off Saturday night in Indianapolis. For an association where one of the "A"s -- I'm pretty sure about this -- stands for "awkward," this is quite a dilemma. Charles Barkley, Keith Olbermann and others have called for the NCAA to immediately yank the looming Final Four from the beating heart of Hoosier country, but that seems unfair to the players, coaches and fans for the four schools that have worked so hard all season to get to this exalted level.
No, there's a better way. Last week, the NCAA issued a statement voicing its concerns over the law, adding: "We will work diligently to assure student-athletes competing in, and visitors attending, next week's Men's Final Four in Indianapolis are not impacted negatively by this bill." That's OK, but it can do much, much more.
The NCAA should keep the Final Four in Indiana, but it should also -- in the infamous words of Broadway's "The Producers," keep it gay, keep it gay, keep it gay. Imagine, for example, that a week from Monday, the two final teams (Kentucky and Duke...who are we kidding) take to the floor of Lucas Oil Stadium led by their honorary captains for the night. They are the three-time All-American and national championship superstar alum of Baylor, Brittney Griner, and the former Stanford standout and retired NBA player Jason Collins -- two openly gay icons of American sports.
While the teams line up at center court, the lights go down for the national anthem...sung, stirringly by Frank Ocean. Look, the game is still the game, and let's not take all the attention away from the players and coaches. But nothing is stopping the NCAA from accessorizing -- for, say, taking over the giant video screen at halftime for a five-minute video saluting the contributions that many gay athletes have made to college sports and American society over the years.
Why use the boycott when the NCAA can turn up the megaphone. For two glorious nights of April, college basketball will have America's close-to-undivided attention. To come to Indianapolis and to make a real, meaningful statement of tolerance, inclusion, and love would cause a lot of the hatred in Indiana's wretched law to simply melt before the nation's eyes.