Today 37 states and Washington, D.C., offer marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Is it a coincidence that scores of bills have erupted in state legislatures in the name of "religious liberty," from those who oppose same-sex marriage?
Nope. While same-sex couples and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) families join center stage, rising choruses of "not so fast" are flaring up. Conservative activists and legislators are rushing to build statutory firewalls against LGBT acceptance and cooperation—particularly ones that deal risky and direct blows to American commerce.
After all, religious freedom advocates insist, even if gay couples choose to marry why should we force a business owner or even a solitary employee to serve them if this violates his faith?
For American businesses however, this begs the questions: What price really justifies discrimination? How do we advocate free enterprise by turning away whole classes of customers?
All of these issues have just been put to the shock test, as Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed his state's law that opens the door for individuals or companies to refuse actions that impose a "substantial burden" on their religious beliefs.
The blowback is fierce, and shows no signs of easing. This is shown by the swift response of business leaders and powerhouses like the NCAA (based in Indianapolis) preparing to host this year's Final Four tournament.
While chambers of commerce and technology companies have been among the most vocal critics, including Apple, Yelp and Salesforce, others are now speaking out. The CEO of Angie's List just declared their Indianapolis expansion canceled, and a host of other U.S. businesses are moving fast to ban future travel and business contacts with Indiana.
To be clear, religious liberty laws can touch both government actions as well as those in the private sector. While both are disturbing, for the moment my concern is with the American marketplace.
Ten years ago, when I wrote about the emerging LGBT economy in my book, "Business Inside Out," I described the signs of businesses past that hung in shops, hotels, restaurants and other public accommodations: "No Jews," "No Negroes," "No Irish," or "No Chinese or dogs."