[UPDATED to include Gov. Scott Walker's support for Indiana's "license to discriminate" law.]
Hundreds of people, some carrying signs reading "no hate in our state," gathered March 29 outside the Indiana Statehouse for a boisterous rally against a new state law that allows discrimination against LGBT people for religious purposes.
With the U.S. Supreme Court likely to rule in a few months on marriage equality, fundamentalist Christian business owners who believe homosexuality is a sin fear they’ll have to provide services to same-sex couples or face fines and lawsuits. Indiana’s broadly written so-called “Religious Freedom Act” indemnifies them.
That's why opponenets have dubbed it a "license to discriminate" law.
The measure, which takes effect in July, prohibits state laws that "substantially burden" a person's ability to follow his or her religious beliefs. The definition of "person" includes religious institutions, businesses and associations.
Right-wing Christians also believe that failing to observe the Sabbath, disobeying one’s husband or parents, committing adultery, stealing and many other behaviors are also sins, but the only one that appears to concern them is homosexuality. It’s unclear whether the new law would also allow Christians to refuse to rent to Muslims or Jews or whether Christian racist groups would be permitted to discriminate against blacks and Latinos.
But one thing that’s quite clear is that Indiana has drawn widespread outrage from businesses and organizations around the nation, as well as on social media with the hashtag #boycottindiana. Local officials and business groups around the state are scrambling to deal with the fallout, which could harm the state financially.
On March 26, Gov. Mike Pence signed the controversial bill into law. Pence formerly served in Congress, where he was an ally of anti-gay fanatic Michele Bachmann. Pence was the first member of the GOP’s congressional leadership to join Bachmann’s tea party caucus.
While same-sex marriage is legal in Indiana due to a federal court ruling, the state does not have a law protecting lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people from discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations or credit. Even while defending the new law against naysayers, Pence iterated that he wouldn’t back such a law.
In the few days since Pence signed the law, a number of high-profile Republicans, including Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, have expressed support for the law. Arkansas is set to pass a nearly identical bill.
"As a matter of principle, Gov. Walker believes in broad religious freedom and the right for Americans to exercise their religion and act on their conscience," AshLee Strong, the press secretary for Walker's Our American Revival political action committee, told CNN.
But a far greater number of people — from entertainer Miley Cyrus to basketball legend Charles Barkley to Apple CEO Tim Cook — have condemned the law on Twitter and other social media. Actor George Takei called for boycotting the state and is now promoting the hashtag #boycottIndiana. A number of companies and organizations that do business in the state have also condemned it, with some threatening to pull out of the state altogether. Those include:
• Gen Conn. Almost immediately after the law was signed, the comics and gaming convention threatened to move its annual event out of Indiana. But the convention, which has a contract to stay in Indianapolis through 2020, will not carry out the threats in the immediate future. threats, at least any time soon. Last year’s even in Indianapolis drew more than 56,000 attendees from more than 40 different countries and all 50 states
“Legislation that could allow for refusal of service or discrimination against our attendees will have a direct negative impact on the state’s economy and will factor into our decision-making on hosting the convention in the state of Indiana in future years,” wrote Adrian Swartout, the company’s chief executive.
• Angie's List. The consumer review service, announced that it’s suspending a planned expansion in Indianapolis because of the new law. Angie's List had sought an $18.5 million incentive package from Indianapolis' City-County Council to add 1,000 jobs over five years. But founder and CEO Bill Oseterle said in a statement March 2 that the expansion was on hold "until we fully understand the implications of the freedom restoration act on our employees."
• Yelp. “it is unconscionable to imagine that Yelp would create, maintain, or expand a significant business presence in any state that encouraged discrimination by businesses against our employees, or consumers at large,” Yelp said in a statement. The company added that it would also reduce or eliminate operations in Arkansas, if that state passes a similar bill, as expected.
• Salesforce. “Today we are canceling all programs that require our customers/employees to travel to Indiana to face discrimination,” Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff tweeted pointing to a CNN story in which it said that it would halt all efforts to expand to the state. “Technology professionals are by their nature very progressive, and backward-looking legislation such as the RFRA will make the state of Indiana a less appealing place to live and work,” the company said in a letter.
• Disciples of Christ. The entire Christian denomination sent a letter saying, “The recent passage in the state legislature of the RFRA bill is distressing to us. It is causing us to reconsider our decision to hold our 2017 gathering in Indianapolis.”
• NCAA. Offices of the college athletic association are in Indianapolis, but NCAA president Mark Emmert said the law could affect its future relationship with the state. "The NCAA national office and our members are deeply committed to providing an inclusive environment for all our events,” he said in a statement. “We are especially concerned about how this legislation could affect our student-athletes and employees. 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. Moving forward, we intend to closely examine the implications of this bill and how it might affect future events as well as our workforce."
The men's Final Four will be held in the city next weekend.
• Eli Lilly and Company. The Indiana-based global drug giant, which employs more than 11,000 workers in the state, called the law “bad for business.” “Discriminatory legislation is bad for Indiana and for business. That’s one key reason we worked with the Indiana Chamber and other businesses in an attempt to defeat the legislation,” Eli Lilly and Company spokeswoman Janice Chavers said via email. “One of our long-held values is respect for people, and that value factors strongly into our position,” an Eli Lilly and Company spokeswoman said via email. “We want all our current and future employees to feel welcome where they live. We certainly understand the implications this legislation has on our ability to attract and retain employees. As we recruit, we are searching for top talent all over the world. We need people who will help find cures for such devastating diseases as cancer and Alzheimer’s. Many of those individuals won’t want to come to a state with laws that discriminate.”
Path to discrimination
Appearing on ABC’s “This Week,” Pence refused six times to answer George Stephanopoulos’ question about whether the law would permit discrimination against LGBT people. Instead, he claimed that people were being intolerant of Christians and of Indiana.
The governor and other supporters of the law contend discrimination claims are overblown and insist it will keep the government from compelling people to provide services they find objectionable on religious grounds. They also maintain that courts haven't allowed discrimination under similar laws covering the federal government and 19 other states.
But speaking to demonstrators on March 28, state Rep. Ed DeLaney, an Indianapolis Democrat, said the state’s law goes further than those laws and opens the door to discrimination.
"This law does not openly allow discrimination, no, but what it does is create a road map, a path to discrimination," he told the crowd, which stretched across the south steps and lawn of the Statehouse. "Indiana's version of this law is not the same as that in other states. It adds all kinds of new stuff and it moves us further down the road to discrimination."
The crowd, for which police didn't have an exact estimate, chanted, "Pence must go!," several times and many people held signs bearing slogans such as "I'm pretty sure God doesn't hate anyone" and "No hate in our state."
Zach Adamson, a Democrat on Indianapolis' City-County Council, said to cheers that the law has nothing to do with religious freedom but everything to do with discrimination.
"This isn't 1950 Alabama; it's 2015 Indiana," he told the crowd, adding that the law has brought embarrassment on the state.
Among those who attended the rally was Jennifer Fox, a 40-year-old from Indianapolis who was joined by her wife, Erin Fox, and their two boys, ages 5 and 8, and other relatives.
Fox said they married last June on the first day that same-sex marriage became legal in Indiana under a federal court ruling. She believes the religious objections law is a sort of reward to Republican lawmakers and their conservation Christian constituents who strongly opposed allowing the legalization of gay marriage in the state.
"I believe that's where this is coming from — to find ways to push their own agenda, which is not a religious agenda; it's aimed at a specific section of people," Fox said.
Although many Indianapolis businesses have expressed opposition to the law and support for gays and lesbians, Fox worries her family could be turned away from a restaurant or other business and that her sons would suffer emotionally.
"I certainly would not want them to think that there's something wrong with our family because we're a loving family," she said.
Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, a Republican who opposed the law, said he and other city officials would be talking to many businesses and convention planners to counter the uproar the law has caused. "I'm more concerned about making sure that everyone knows they can come in here and feel welcome," Ballard said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Lambda Legal weighs in
Jennifer Pizer, National Director of Lambda Legal’s Law and Policy Project, issued the following statement:
Governor Pence, yet again, claims he opposes discrimination, while continuing to defend this discriminatory law and deceiving the public about what it does. If he and Indiana’s elected leadership want to be taken seriously and to fix public perception of their state, they can and must take two simple steps:
- Pass a law to include gay and trangender people within Indiana’s existing, statewide nondiscrimination rules.
- Add this language to the new religión law: ‘This chapter does not establish or eliminate a defense to a claim under any federal, state or local law protecting civil rights or preventing discrimination.’
Gov. Pence has been deceiving Hoosiers and the nation. He said that SB101 isn’t intended to allow discrimination against LGBT people, but amendments to ensure that would be true were repeatedly rejected during the legislative process. If he honestly means what he continues to say, then he and the legislatureimmediately must work together to make it so.
Fixing this is neither confusing nor difficult, but it is urgent. Without immediatate legislative action to fix this discriminatory reality for gay and transgender Hoosiers, Governor Pence’s platitudes today will remain as misleading as his past deceptions about the new law.
To be clear:
Gov. Pence myth: SB 101 is just like an Illinois law that then-State Senator Obama voted to support.
Truth: Gov. Pence fails to point out that Illinois has a robust, statewide Human Rights Act that specifically protects LGBT people just as it protects others in Illinois. Indiana does not. This matters because those seeking to discriminate in Indiana may claim that the lack of a statewide law barring sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination means that there is no compelling state interest even to enforce local ordinances providing such protections.
Gov. Pence myth: This law only reinforces established law in Indiana.
Truth: The language in SB 101 is so broadly written that someone can sue even without their religious beliefs having actually been burdened simply by claiming that is “likely” to happen.
Gov. Pence myth: SB101 is just like the federal law that President Clinton signed 20 years ago.
Truth: SB 101 is substantially broader than the federal law. It extends religious rights to all businesses, no matter how large and completely secular they are. In addition, the federal RFRA can only be invoked against government action. SB 101 goes much further, inviting discrimination by allowing religious beliefs to be raised as a defense in lawsuits and administrative proceedings brought by workers, tenants and customers who have suffered discrimination in a business transaction based on someone else’s religious beliefs.