“Apple is open for everyone,” tweeted Cook, who came out as gay last year. “We are deeply disappointed in Indiana’s new law.” It was retweeted and favorited over 2,000 times within the first hour. Cook, who has more than 1 million Twitter (TWTR, Tech30) followers, also called on the Arkansas governor to veto a similar bill in his state.

The Indiana law gives businesses owners who oppose homosexuality for religious reasons the right to turn away gay, lesbian and transgender people. Governor Mike Pence signed the law Thursday, hailing it as a victory for “religious liberty.”

On Friday, a spokeswoman for Pence reiterated the Governor’s argument that the law does not discriminate against gay people and is similar to 1993 federal law designed to protect American’s freedom of religion.

Cook also tweeted, “Around the world, we strive to treat every customer the same — regardless of where they come from, how they worship or who they love.”

Apple has two stores in Indiana, located in malls in Indianapolis and Mishawaka.

Other businesses have also spoken out against the law saying, it will make it harder to attract employees and customers. They note that Indiana doesn’t currently have any laws prohibiting discrimination against gay people.

Indiana Chamber of Commerce: “In our eyes, the law is entirely unnecessary. Passing the law was always going to bring the state unwanted attention.”

Eli Lilly: “We certainly understand the implications this legislation has on our ability to attract and retain employees. Simply put, we believe discriminatory legislation is bad for Indiana and for business.”

Eli Lilly (LLY) employs more than 11,700 workers in Indiana, mostly in Indianapolis.

NCAA: “We are especially concerned about how this legislation could affect our student-athletes and employees.”

Indianapolis is a major destination for conventions and sporting events, including the upcoming NCAA Final Four college basketball tournament.

NCAA President Mark Emmert said the NCAA will “work diligently” to ensure competitors and visitors at next week’s Final Four are not “negatively impacted by this bill.”

Gen Con, the video game convention: The law would “factor into our decision making on hosting the convention in the state of Indiana in future years.”

The convention brought 56,000 people to the state last year, according to Gen Con CEO Adrian Swartout.

Salesforce: CEO Marc Benioff said on Twitter (TWTR, Tech30) that his company will “dramatically reduce our investments” in Indiana, calling the law an “outrage.” Benioff called on other CEOs in the tech industry to follow suit.

Yelp: CEO Jeremy Stoppelman said the company will “make every effort” to expand its corporate operations in states that do not have such laws on the books. “These laws set a terrible precedent that will likely harm the broader economic health of the states where they have been adopted, the businesses currently operating in those states and, most importantly, the consumers who could be victimized under these laws.”

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Gay Money Is No Good in Indiana

Posted March 26th, 2015 by pikapp44

After the passing of a bill that allows Indiana businesses to discriminate against gays, LGBT allies are threatening to leave the state. The first to opt out? It may be gamers, who are threatening to take their $50 million convention elsewhere.

GenCon, the world’s biggest convention for tabletop gaming and a massive moneymaking machine for the State of Indiana, has responded to a bill that legalizes discrimination against LGBT customers by threatening to leave the state—and take their $50-million-a-year convention elsewhere.

This isn’t because GenCon is run by political progressives or “social justice warriors” trying to make a difference. It really, really isn’t. If GenCon leaves Indianapolis it’ll be for the same reason it came to Indianapolis and abandoned its original home of Wisconsin, the home state of Founder of D&D Gary Gygax (peace be upon him).

Because it makes business sense.

It should be obvious why it would make business sense for a convention like GenCon to flee Indiana if a bill legalizing LGBT discrimination passes. GenCon is only in Indianapolis in the first place because of the longstanding tradition of GenCon in the Midwest, despite the difficulty of finding space for large conventions out here. It came to the Indiana Convention Center because there wasn’t room anywhere in Milwaukee, a convention center that strains to accommodate its 50,000 attendees and was expanded in 2011 partly just because of GenCon.

It’s been brought up many times that it would make a lot of sense for GenCon to move to Seattle, where GenCon, LLC is actually headquartered, as are Wizards of the Coast, the current makers of D&D, and which already hosts the even more massive Penny Arcade Expo.

What might finally tip the scales in favor of breaking with tradition and abandoning flyover country for the coast? Telling conventiongoers, exhibiters and VIP guests that their sexual orientation might get them refused service by local merchants.

Really, it shouldn’t be a surprise that not just GenCon but the Indianapolis travel bureau have spoken out against this bill. It’s literally a bill declaring the intention of for-profit businesses to turn away potential customers. It is, bluntly, an anti-business bill.

I get very, very tired of the argument that progressives seek to pressure companies to push a “social agenda” at the expense of “making a profit.” These two things aren’t opposed. In fact, it’s the cultural reactionaries who get upset at companies selling something wildly profitable and demand that they stop.

This isn’t a new debate. Libertarians have long argued that by definition any company that markets to a broader, more inclusive audience will capture more dollars than a company that limits itself—and therefore the free market should inevitably lead to the end of Jim Crow, the end of the gender pay gap, and ultimately achieve Martin Luther King’s dream without any need for protests or regulation from anyone.

In real life, it’s not that simple. Things stay static for a long time, even when there’s potential profit to be made by diversifying. This is partly because of humans’ irrational fear of change—partly because of our entirely rational fear of other humans, whose irrational fear of change leads them to start deranged hate mobs.

Take the world of comics. This is the age of a comic book renaissance—only 20 years after Marvel Comics had to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the wake of the epic economic collapse of the “grim gritty ‘90s,” when comics doubled down on their “core audience” of disaffected, young white men.

Since then, comics have come roaring back to economic and cultural success, based largely on a conscious decision to increase diversity. Marvel’s current top seller is its Ms. Marvel title starring Pakistani-American Kamala Khan. The new female Thor is outselling her male predecessor by 30 percent. Over on the DC Comics side, the “hipster” reimagining of Batgirl has drawn attention the character hasn’t gotten in years and made her DC’s rising star.

The idea that basic gesture—like trying to appeal to young women as well as young men—might breathe new life into the moribund comics industry shouldn’t be a surprise. Comics already were for a more diverse audience back in their heyday. Sabrina the Teenage Witch was a comic book long before it was a sitcom, and even superhero comics used to intentionally court female fans before the drastic shrinking of the comics audience in the 1980s. In Japan, the question of whether or not “girls read comics” is a laughable one.

And what has been the response to this from “hardcore” comics fans? Gratitude and excitement that the medium is commercially successful and that new fans are coming in? For many, yes. For others, it’s been one long, obnoxious blast of people trying to convince the industry to throw those new fans’ dollars away because they don’t spend as well as real fans’.

Hence when DC blundered and issued an offensive variant cover of Batgirl being menaced by the Joker—before the artist and creative team behind Batgirl themselves chose to withdrew it—dozens of angry comic book guys marched out of the woodwork. These were detractors who clearly had no particular interest in Batgirl, but wanted to accuse DC of “self-censorship” and “caving” to progressive busybodies.

Well, DC is making a lot more money on Batgirl now that she’s an aspirational hero for teen girls than they did when she was a disposable victim for male fans to ogle. Yes, lots of “hardcore” comics fans have fond memories of The Killing Joke—the Alan Moore comic referenced on the recently pulled cover—and get mad when that book is called out as offensive.

Guess what? That doesn’t matter. You guys aren’t part of the target market for the current Batgirl run, and not catering to you is, again, good business.

And we come back to LGBT rights, and how every “economic impact” analysis of every same-sex marriage referendum has stated that the impact of a “wedding boom” and increased migration to a state seen as “LGBT-friendly” can only have positive economic effects.

But so what? Indiana’s legislature has made pretty clear that for them “values” trump economics to the point of turning away paying customers en masse if they have the wrong sexuality, to the point of driving business out of their state. And Indiana is only doing on a small scale what Russia has done on a grand scale, to the point of threatening their ability to keep the Sochi Olympics in 2013.

Personally, I’m far from a free-market libertarian, but I’m not really anti-capitalism per se. The capitalist view of the world is, if anything, kind of charmingly naïve—the Homo economicus that Econ 101 classes teach is utterly alien to real human beings—and would be a lot more tolerable than real human beings, if he existed.

The real history of the human race shows we’re tribal apes much more than we are rational profit maximizers. We have no problem paying an immense price to turn away potential customers who want to trade with us because we’re prejudiced against them. Indeed, we’ll pay an even higher personal cost to attack and drive away other people’s customers who have nothing to do with us. At its most extreme this kind of entitlement will lead to literally burning huge stockpiles of wealth to the ground—”If I can’t have it, no one can.”

There’s little you can say to the perpetually angry demographic of gatekeepers who value the “purity” of their community–whatever scale of community it might be, from a nation to a city to a media subculture–over something as pissant as profit.

But you can say to the greedy businessmen and corporations that these people are not your allies, and that those hectoring censorious pro-diversity progressives actually are. We are the ones who ultimately want to expand your audience—the set of people who will buy your stuff—as large as it can possibly be. The reactionaries are the ones who want to limit or shrink it. Whose side are you going to be on?

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Religious Freedom? Nope, Just Plain Old Discrimination

Posted March 25th, 2015 by pikapp44

Religious Freedom? Nope, Just Plain Old Discrimination by The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, Washington, D.C., and the retired IX Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire

Conservatives can’t stop gay marriage. But they can stop laws that prevent discrimination. And in Indiana and elsewhere, they’re succeeding.

Religious conservatives have lost their battle over gay marriage. Most will even admit it. The clock is ticking down to April 28, when the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments for and against it—and by the end of June, they will have ruled on the right of every American to a civil marriage to the person of their choosing, regardless of gender. Although a “no gay marriage” ruling is possible, almost no one believes the Supreme Court will rule against the civil right to marriage.

Majority support for gay marriage is to be found in virtually every demographic in society. But the minority who still opposes it does so with vigor and conviction. The Roman Catholic hierarchy (not the people in the pews) and conservative Evangelicals continue to look for ways to express their disdain and condemnation for gay or lesbian couples who want to be married or who have been married. The new strategy is to do state-by-state what has been impossible nationally. Bills are popping up all over the country in state legislatures with what conservatives hope will be their effective (and legal) defense against the rising tide of acceptance of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people.

Indiana is a good case in point. On Monday, the Indiana House of Representatives passed a bill that would exempt individuals and companies from non-discrimination rulings by the courts—based on their religious beliefs. A similar bill was passed earlier by the Indiana Senate, and once the two are reconciled, Republican Governor Mike Pence has indicated he will sign it. This legislation, like its sister bills in other state legislatures, is based on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) bill passed by the U.S. Congress in 1993. Many states have their own RFRAs, which, like the federal one, prevent any law which substantially burdens a person’s free expression of religion. (This legislation figured heavily into the Hobby Lobby case.)

If this legislation becomes law, anyone who disagrees with any non-discrimination legislation or court rulings would be allowed, based on their religious beliefs, to disregard the provisions of that non-discrimination protection.

The multiple ways in which such legislation is problematic are stunning. First, this would open the floodgates for citizens/corporations to exempt themselves from all kinds of laws, merely by claiming that it violates their religious beliefs. Now, we are presumably not just talking about your common, every day, vanilla, mainstream religions (think Methodists, Presbyterians, Unitarians, Reform and Conservative Jews). Such a law would, presumably, also protect members of the Westboro Baptist Church with its “God hates Fags” approach; the crazy, renegade Mormon man and his 25 wives; Satan worshippers; and Scientologists. Almost anything passes for “religion” in this country, and there would be no end to the appeals for exemption following certain laws based on the tenets of one’s religion, no matter how small and no matter how outside the mainstream that religion.

However, religionists don’t have to be crazy or on the fringes of society to wreak havoc on those they disdain. In debating the bill, Representative Bruce Borders (R-Jasonville) cited an anesthesiologist who refused to anesthetize a patient because the procedure for which his services were needed was an abortion—all due to his religious beliefs about the sinfulness of that procedure. A Roman Catholic pharmacist could refuse to fill a prescription for physician-prescribed birth control, citing her church’s objection to any kind of artificial birth control. A Southern Baptist pharmacist could refuse to fill a prescription for Truvada, the Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) drug used by gay men (and others) to lessen their risk for being infected with HIV, claiming his church condemns the “gay lifestyle,” by which he means, apparently, promiscuous and profligate sex.

If this were really about condemning sin, then service would be denied to all sinners, not just a particular sin among a particular, targeted group.

It is difficult for me to understand how this is not akin to the fervently held religious beliefs that the races should not “mix” in marriage, and the anti-miscegenation laws that emanated from those beliefs. Of course, in 1967 the U.S. Supreme Court struck down those laws as unconstitutional in Loving v. Virginia. How is this any different from a 1960s lunch counter owner denying service to African Americans because of his religious beliefs (widely held at the time) that “Negroes” were lesser human beings and citizens than white folks?

Taken to their logical and extreme conclusion, such laws could allow someone to ask to be exempted from meeting the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, if that person’s religion believed (as in much of the Old Testament) that physical infirmities were the result of the afflicted person’s sin (or that of his parents), and “my religion condemns sin rather than cooperating with it.”

But these debates and legislation are not fueled by the religious adherent’s condemnation of sin. Chances are, the florist who refuses to provide flowers for a gay wedding does not deny service to a bride who is on her second or third marriage. Jesus is silent about gay marriage, but roundly and emphatically condemns remarriage after divorce. The photographer who refuses to take pictures for a lesbian marriage (because it is against God’s will) should also decline to photograph a lavish and ostentatiously expensive wedding (Jesus talks a lot about the sinful nature of greed). If this were seriously about not serving sinful people, then obese people would be turned away from fast-food outlets as obviously living the sinful “lifestyle” of a glutton. If this were really about condemning sin, then service would be denied to all sinners, not just a particular sin among a particular, targeted group.

Make no mistake: These legislative bills, like the one about to become law in Indiana, are about exempting some people from having to comply with non-discrimination laws already in place for LGBT people, as well as pre-empting and forestalling any efforts to put such protections in place. This is old-fashioned discrimination all dressed up in ecclesiastical vestments and “religious freedom” language. But it is still discrimination, pure and simple, against a targeted group of fellow citizens. No amount of cloaking such legislation in the garb of “freedom of religion” is going to turn this sow’s ear into a silk purse.

The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, Washington, D.C., and the retired IX Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire. Follow him on Twitter @BishopGRobinson.

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Faggot. It’s unfortunately a word that most gay men have had thrown at them at some point in their life. It’s a word that Devin Norman heard yelled at him in a grocery store parking lot this weekend before he was allegedly brutally beaten for being a gay man in Mississippi.

The thought of being physically harmed for being gay has crossed the mind of nearly every gay man. For many, myself included, it’s a thought that’s become a reality. With the Supreme Court just months away a landmark decision that could legalize marriage equality in the United States and superstars like Laverne Cox on the cover of magazines, it’s easy to feel like we no longer live in a world in which people in the LGBT* have much left to worry about. That simply is not the case.

On March 20, 2015, Devin Norman became further proof of that. Devin is currently recovering from his brutal attack and his attacker has been taken into custody. Here’s the problem: His attacker is merely being charged with assault, even though the incident appears to be a hate crime motivated by sexual orientation. Mississippi has no hate crime protections in place for gay people — not surprising of a state that is refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples after being mandated to do so by federal court.)

While Mississippi continues to lag behind the times, we can still get justice for Devin on federal level. You see, on October 28, 2009 President Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, attached to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010. The bill expanded the existing United States federal hate crime law to apply to crimes motivated by a victim’s actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability, and dropped the prerequisite that the victim be engaging in a federally protected activity.

Last year, Devin said on his Facebook page that he aims to be the change that he wishes to see in this world. Out of this terrible event, we can help to make that goal a reality.

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Benjamin Netanyahu’s allies acknowledged on Sunday that his election-eve disavowal of a Palestinian state had caused a rift with the White House, but blamed U.S. President Barack Obama’s unprecedented criticism on a misunderstanding.

In the United States, where relations with Netanyahu have become a partisan issue after generations in which support for Israel was a point of bipartisan unity, Republican Senator John McCain said Obama should get over his “temper tantrum.”

The Israeli prime minister pledged on the eve of his re-election victory last week that there would never be a Palestinian state while he is prime minister.

The remarks were widely interpreted as a rejection of the “two-state solution” that has been the basis of decades of talks to end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, brokered by successive U.S. Republican and Democratic administrations alike.

Since winning re-election, Netanyahu has tried to row back, arguing that he was not rejecting Palestinian statehood in principle, but responding to a reality in which the Palestinian Authority has a political pact with the Islamist group Hamas, under which statehood would be unacceptable.

But Obama said on Friday Netanyahu’s comments had made it “hard to find a path” back to serious peace negotiations. He told Netanyahu on Thursday that Washington would have to “reassess” its policies in the Middle East.

Israel’s Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz, a close Netanyahu ally, acknowledged the problem but pointed the finger at Washington for failing to understand the prime minister’s position.

“If the Americans are finding it difficult to understand or accept our clarifications (on Palestinian statehood), this is certainly worrying and requires tending to,” he told Israel Radio. “He (Netanyahu) didn’t say this (statehood) is ‘unacceptable’. He said reality has changed.”

Israel’s close alliance with the United States has been a fundamental pillar of its security throughout its 67 year history, and Netanyahu’s political foes have accused him of jeopardizing it.

Netanyahu has long had a difficult relationship with Obama, and made it worse two weeks before the election by addressing the U.S. Congress at the invitation of opposition Republicans to condemn the administration’s nuclear negotiations with Iran.

Asked if U.S.-Israel relations were at a dangerous point, McCain, a leading voice on foreign affairs in the Republican-controlled Congress, said: “I think that’s up to the president of the United States.”

“Get over your temper tantrum, Mr. President,” McCain said on CNN. “The least of your problems is what Bibi Netanyahu said during an election campaign. If every politician were held to everything they say in a political campaign, obviously that would be a topic of long discussion.”

Amos Yadlin, a former chief of Israeli military intelligence aligned with the center-left Zionist Union which lost the vote to Netanyahu, said Israel would “pay a price” for Netanyahu’s remarks on statehood, which had caused “fury” in Washington.

“I’m not among those who panic: I don’t think the United States will impose sanctions on Israel. But I see places in which it will go much harder for us,” said Yadlin, who returned a day earlier from a visit to the U.S. capital. “Firstly, they used a word that they haven’t used since 1975 – ‘reassessment’, a reassessment of relations.”

President Reuven Rivlin began the formal process on Sunday of consulting political parties to nominate a candidate to form a governing coalition, largely a foregone conclusion after Netanyahu’s victory.

Netanyahu, leader of the right-wing Likud party, is likely to be given the nod as early as Wednesday to start what could be up to 42 days of negotiations with potential cabinet partners. He is expected to build a coalition with far-right, religious and centrist parties, on course to becoming Israel’s longest-serving prime minister.

His comments on a Palestinian state were part of a hard rightward tack that helped deliver the election victory after polls predicted he would lose to the center-left Zionist Union.

Obama also took Netanyahu to task for an Internet post on the day of the election in which the prime minister urged right-wing supporters to vote because Arab Israelis were doing so in large numbers.

Netanyahu publicly embraced an independent state for Palestinians in a speech in 2009, but Palestinians have long questioned his sincerity, noting his expansion of Israeli settlements on occupied land. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called Netanyahu’s latest comments “very worrying.”

With no peace talks under way, the Palestinians have taken steps to seek international recognition of their independence unilaterally. So far most Western countries have held back from diplomatic recognition, arguing that a Palestinian state should emerge from negotiations with Israel.

Washington has long used its veto in the U.N. Security Council to prevent the United Nations from taking steps to recognize Palestinian independence. Some in Israel are concerned that Obama’s “reassessment” could jeopardize that stance.

Silvan Shalom, a Likud cabinet minister, said Israel would have little incentive to seek a peace deal if the United States and other countries “lend a hand” to unilateral Palestinian moves. If that happens, he told Army Radio, “then what is the point of signing another (peace) accord?”

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Puerto Rico ends its defense of gay marriage ban

Posted March 21st, 2015 by pikapp44

The Puerto Rican government will no longer defend a law that bans same-sex couples from marrying and does not recognize the validity of such marriages performed in other jurisdictions, the U.S. commonwealth’s attorney general announced on Friday.

The announcement coincided with the filing of a government brief before the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston, where the Puerto Rico law is being challenged.

The Caribbean island, which is a U.S. territory, said it would no longer defend Article 68 of its Civil Code which contains the same sex marriage rules.

“The decision recognizes that all human beings are equal before the law,” Justice Secretary César Miranda said. “We believe in an equal society in which everyone enjoys the same rights.”

The move paves the wave for the recognition of gay marriages in Puerto Rico, and was welcomed by gay singing star Ricky Martin, who is beloved in his native Puerto Rico.

“Today is a great day for my island,” Martin said in a Twitter message. “My heart is beating out of my chest. How proud I am to live in a country of equality.”

Gay marriage bans have been toppled in a growing number of states following a Supreme Court ruling two years ago that invalidated a federal law that restricted benefits to heterosexual couples.

Oral arguments are scheduled before the U.S. Supreme Court next month on the constitutionality of gay marriage bans in Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky and Tennessee.

Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla, a Democrat who is a practicing Catholic, said in a statement that the spread of laws in several U.S. states had pointed to an “undeniable consensus that does not allow discriminatory distinctions as that contained in our Civil Code with respect to the rights of same sex couples.”

“Everyone knows my religious beliefs but political leaders should not impose their beliefs,” said Garcia Padilla, who has defended the traditional definition of marriage in the past.

The decision by Puerto Rico came on the last day that it had to answer arguments presented by five same sex couples and the group Puerto Rico Para Tod@s, who were appealing a decision by U.S. District Court Judge Juan Perez Gimenez last October that dismissed their lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Puerto Rico Civil Code.

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Jeb Bush’s Anti-Gay New Hire

Posted March 15th, 2015 by pikapp44

Lawyer and political adviser Jordan Sekulow is the Saul Goodman of social conservatism. He frequently appears on right-wing television to pontificate—his face caked with makeup, hair gelled back, suit shining, and double chin taking on a life of its own—about a wide range of topics, from Christian persecution to conservative persecution. On social media, he branded those behind the proposed Ground Zero Mosque “terrorists.” And in his capacity as executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice, televangelist Pat Robertson’s snake oil mega-mall of right-wing legal causes, he has lobbied foreign governments to ban homosexuality and fought efforts to allow exceptions to anti-abortion laws when the life of the mother is at risk.

And on Friday, he announced he’s going to work for Jeb Bush.

While Bush has not endorsed Sekulow’s extreme anti-gay position, Salon’s Luke Brinker notes that he also has not “staked out positions substantially at odds with those taken by Sekulow and the ACLJ.”

Until this point, Bush’s hires have done nothing but bolster his moderate reputation—especially on the issue of marriage equality.
Expected to run Bush’s campaign is David Kochel, a vocal marriage equality advocate who ran Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign in Iowa; the communications director for Bush’s PAC, Right to Rise, is Tim Miller, who is openly gay; The New York Times reported on February 4 that Bush’s longtime adviser, Sally Bradshaw, “urged” her former pastor to continue to speak in favor of same-sex marriage.

Largely because of this, on February 26, Buzzfeed’s McKay Coppins declared Bush “2016’s Gay-Friendly Republican.”

Bush didn’t seem to like that.

Besides gay marriage—which he has consistently opposed, though he has, in recent years, adopted a more sympathetic tone when discussing the issue—Bush stands in opposition to the far-right on Common Core and immigration reform.According to FiveThirtEight’s Nate Silver, on a Conservatism scale of 0 to 100 Bush scores 37, “similar to Romney and McCain, each of whom scored a 39,” and neither of whom, you may recall, were elected president despite earning their party’s nomination.

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With the swipe of a pen, Gov. Gary Herbert enacted a landmark compromise bill that gives Utah its first statewide nondiscrimination protections for the gay and transgender community while safeguarding religious liberties for people of faith.

Herbert signed SB296 in the Capitol Rotunda, surrounded by members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and a bipartisan collection of lawmakers, who worked for weeks in concert with leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to craft the proposal.

With its enactment, Utah will become the 19th state to provide statewide protections for the LGBT community in housing and employment based on both sexual orientation and gender identity, according to data tracked by the national Human Rights Campaign.

Dubbed by some as the “Utah solution,” the bill has been hailed nationwide for its attempt to balance the advancements in gay rights with the deeply held beliefs and conservative values of churches and other religious groups.

In a statement issued Thursday, Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest gay rights advocacy group, called the bill a historic “milestone compromise.”

“A Republican majority has voted to expand Utah’s existing nondiscrimination protections to include the state’s LGBT community for the very first time,” Griffin said. “Equality Utah, the ACLU of Utah and the bipartisan group of legislators who worked around the clock to move this legislation forward have achieved an incredible and collaborative victory for the people of Utah.”

Under SB296, existing anti-discrimination laws for housing and employment would be amended to include sexual orientation and gender identity and clarify exemptions for religious institutions and provide protections for religious expression.

The legislation would make it illegal for employers and landlords to discriminate against individuals based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Religious organizations and their affiliates would be exempt from the bill’s requirements. The bill also prevents workers from being fired for expressing beliefs on marriage, family or sexuality unless they conflict with the employer’s business interests.

After a late-night House vote Wednesday, Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, co-sponsor of the bill — which he proposed in three consecutive sessions — said it would not have passed without the rare public support of the Mormon church.

The church’s faith leaders said in a statement Thursday that they are happy with outcome of the SB296 vote, saying that the bill “reflects the very best of collaboration and statesmanship from groups and individuals who may not always agree on all things, but who have passed landmark legislation that balances religious freedom and anti-discrimination. While other states may find a different solution, we hope this fair, balanced approach shows that fairness for all is possible.”

Separately, lawmakers also passed SB297, which sets rules for government agencies that license and perform marriages. The bill would let individual clerks refuse to perform gay marriages for religious reasons, but would require those agencies to still identify someone to conduct those ceremonies.

Equality Utah and the Utah chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union initially opposed that bill, fearing it would undermine the provisions of SB296 and give broad latitude for people of faith to deny services and equal treatment to LGBT persons.

HRC’s legal director, Sarah Warbelow, echoed that criticism Thursday, calling SB297 needless and disappointing legislation.

“Individuals who apply for jobs that serve the public should be prepared to serve the whole public equally and without reservation,” Warbelow said.

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A record number of voters now support gay marriage, a NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released Monday found.

The poll shows that an all-time high 59 percent of American voters support same-sex marriage — nearly double the amount of voters who supported it in 2004. Support has also increased among conservative voters, with 35 percent now saying they back same-sex marriage, an increase of 9 percentage points from April 2013.

Fred Yang, a Democratic pollster who conducted the survey with Republican Bill McInturff, told the Wall Street Journal that support for gay marriage was increasing among voters faster than attitudes towards interracial marriage, now supported by 87 percent of Americans.

Despite the increase in support among conservatives, the poll found that it’s still unclear how a GOP candidate’s position on same-sex marriage would affect their chances with the electorate. Fifty percent of Republican primary voters said that they would view a candidate who supported gay marriage less favorably, while just 19 percent said that they would view the candidate more favorably.

Republicans seem to be taking a somewhat softer tone on gay marriage, and the party’s 2016 hopefuls recently have seemed reluctant to talk about the issue.

The poll comes as courts consider the legal fate of gay marriage. Last week, the Alabama Supreme Court ordered probate judges in the state to stop issuing same-sex marriage licenses even though a federal judge ruled the state’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court will consider next month whether state bans on same-sex marriage violate the Constitution.

The NBC-WSJ poll, conducted March 1-5, surveyed 1,000 adults and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

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As the Supreme Court readies to hear a group of cases that could make same-sex marriage legal from coast to coast, support for allowing gays and lesbians to marry is piling in from all directions.

On April 28, the court will hear arguments in four related cases that address whether state bans on gay and lesbian marriages are constitutional. The ruling is expected by late June.

The rate of growth for supporting same-sex marriage has risen so rapidly even the director of the national biennial General Social Survey is marveling at the speed of change.

“Most things change slowly. This is one of the most impressive changes we’ve measured,” said Tom Smith of the National Opinion Research Center, based at the University of Chicago, which conducts the GSS.The GSS first asked about legalizing same-sex marriage in 1988, and only 11 percent agreed.

According to results released Thursday, the 2014 survey found 56 percent of Americans overall now support civil marriage for same-sex couples, up from 48 percent in 2012. The numbers bumped up in every age group and political persuasion.

Because nearly three in four adults under age 35 are the most strongly in favor of gay marriage, Smith said there’s likely to be even more movement in this direction in society overall: “They’re the engine moving change.”

Nearly 400 businesses including Google Inc., American Airlines Group Inc., Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Johnson & Johnson signed on to a friend of the court brief filed earlier this week, according to Reuters.

“Allowing same-sex couples to marry improves employee morale and productivity, reduces uncertainty, and removes the wasteful administrative burdens imposed by the current disparity of state law treatment,” the brief says.

Support from Democrats is not news. But this week dozens of prominent conservatives, including former Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman and David Koch, one of the deeply conservative billionaire Koch brothers, signed a brief that says “conservative values are consistent with — indeed, are advanced by — affording civil marriage rights to same-sex couples.”

Same-sex marriage is currently legal in 37 states and the District of Columbia but still embroiled in legal battles in Alabama.

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