Following the national firestorm over Indiana's controversial religious freedom law, Arnold Schwarzenegger has a message for his fellow Republicans: stop getting bogged down in culture wars.
In a new column for the Washington Post, the former California governor blasted the party for alienating the "next generation of voters" — young people — by proposing divisive religious freedom measures that polarize the country and critics say could lead to discrimination against LGBT people:
If the Republican Party wants the next generation of voters to listen to our ideas and solutions to real problems, we must be an inclusive and open party, not a party of divisions. We must be the party of limited government, not the party that legislates love. We must be the party that stands for equality and against discrimination in any form.
We must be the party that originally attracted this young Austrian immigrant.
Despite the growing controversy, legal experts argue — citing decades of court battles over similar laws — that Indiana's religious freedom law couldn't be used to discriminate against LGBT people. These laws, which exist in 19 states besides Indiana, are traditionally meant to protect religious minorities by stopping the government from intruding on a person's religious practices without a compelling interest. What actually lets businesses deny jobs, housing, and service to LGBT people is the lack of civil rights protections for sexual orientation and gender identity in most states.
But there's very little question that Indiana's religious freedom law was passed to appease religious conservatives who feel defeated as same-sex marriage rights spread across the US. Advance America, a conservative organization in Indiana that helped get the law passed, said on its website that the legislation would help "Christian bakers, florists and photographers" so they're not "punished for refusing to participate in a homosexual marriage!"
These are simply unpopular positions among younger voters, as Schwarzenegger notes in his column. Not only do polls show that millennials are much more likely to support same-sex marriage, but they're also more likely to say businesses shouldn't be allowed to use their religion to deny wedding services to same-sex couples:
The takeaway, Schwarzenegger argues, is that Republicans should focus on the issues that matter to younger voters — the economy, education, pollution — not keep pandering to older voters who will matter a lot less in future elections.