GOP infighting: Religious right versus big business

    Since the dawn of the Reagan era, the GOP coalition has been a marriage of convenience between culture and commerce. The religious right supplied the voters, and big business supplied the money. The religious right sometimes got what it wanted (government-enforced morality); more often, big business got what it wanted (tax breaks, deregulation). For three decades, it was a sweet deal.

    But on this day when gay marriage is being argued in the U.S. Supreme Court, the God squad and the corporate world are seemingly on the verge of divorce.

    Third-tier Republican presidential hopeful Bobby Jindal is trying to repair the breach, in a hilariously ham-handed fashion, and we’ll get to him soon.

    Marriage equality is the key point of contention between the factions, and their differences seem irreconcilable. Christian conservatives, who comprise a huge chunk of the party base, believe that gay unions are bad for the nation’s moral character. But corporate leaders have come to believe that right-wing intolerance is bad for business.

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    The rift this spring has been quite a spectacle. It has been triggered by the enactment of so-called “religious freedom” laws, most notably in Indiana. Put simply, big business understands that we live in the 21st century – where gay marriage draws mainstream American support – and therefore it recognizes that the imposition of religious bigotry would be a serious drag on profits. As Arne Sorenson, the CEO of Marriott International Inc. says, these laws are “pure idiocy from a business perspective.”

    This is why 379 major businesses and trade groups have filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing for a favorable gay marriage ruling in June. This is why the Coca Cola Co. released this statement: “We believe policies that would allow a business to refuse service to an individual based upon discrimination of any kind, does not only violate our company’s core values, but would also negatively affect our consumers, customers, suppliers, bottling partners and associates.”

    Cue the outrage on the religious right, which feels betrayed by its erstwhile political partners. And indeed it has been abandoned. Even in Texas, where “religious freedom” bills keep popping up, businesses have formed a new group – called Texas Competes – to fight back against bigotry. The signatories, which include Dell, Whole Foods, and Texas Instruments, crafted a statement this month declaring that “for Texas businesses to compete for top talent, we must have workplaces and communities that are diverse and welcoming for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.” 

    Stung by betrayal, the right-wing Family Research Council is calling for a boycott against Walmart – because the retail chain’s CEO, Doug McMillion, recently had the temerity to speak up for tolerance: “Every day in our stores, we see first hand the benefits diversity and inclusion have on our associates, customers, and the communities we serve.” That kind of talk infuriates Gary Bauer, another religious right leader, who recently circulated a memo to fellow activists: “Defending our churches and synagogues is more important than defending the Fortune 500.” (I’d love to poll America’s synagogues and find out how many of those congregations stand with the likes of Bauer.)

    And cue the entertainment factor. Some politicians are siding with the aggrieved religious conservatives, demanding that big business get in sync with bigotry – for instance, presidential hopeful Ted Cruz (R-Circus), who accuses the Fortune 500 corporations of “running shamelessly to endorse the radical gay marriage agenda.” Better yet, I promised you Bobby Jindal, so let’s read the column he posted last week.

    The governor of Louisiana says, “Conservative leaders cannot sit idly by and allow large corporations to rip our coalition in half.” His solution, apparently, is to persuade these corporations that they’re being led astray by “radical liberals” who have somehow invaded “the boardroom.” For instance: “The left-wing ideologues who oppose religious freedom are the same ones who seek to tax and regulate businesses out of existence. The same people who think that profit making is vulgar believe that religiosity is folly.”

    So many thigh-slappers in those two sentences. I doubt the corporations would buy his argument that marriage equality supporters want to “tax and regulate businesses out of existence,” or his argument that marriage equality supporters “think that profit making is vulgar.” And his whole premise is wrong anyway; far from being the province of “radical liberals,” marriage equality is now endorsed by 59 percent of Americans (an all-time high), and, according to a new Pew poll, a plurality of Americans say that devoutly Christian wedding-service businesses should be required to provide services to gays.

    “Radical liberals” didn’t invade the boardroom. The people in the boardroom smartened up all by themselves. The big question now is whether the GOP’s marriage of convenience can still function at full speed in ’16 if the business folks keep pointing forward while the religious conservatives keep pining for the past.


    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1, and on Facebook.

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