Indiana recently joined a growing list of states which sanction anti-LGBT discrimination after Gov. Mike Pence (R) signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”) into law. Ostensibly modeled after the federal RFRA passed by Congress and signed into law by President Clinton in 1993, these mini-RFRAs have largely been enacted in response to the massive expansion of marriage equality and several cases of Christian florists and wedding photographers who have refused to serve gay and lesbian couples.
Business owners would be able to raise the laws as a defense if they refuse to take part in activities which run counter to their deeply-held religious beliefs which, as numerous critics have pointed out, is a recipe for discrimination.
One Hoosier already praised the law on a local radio station, claiming he had already “discriminated” against gay customers in the past. “Well, I feel okay with it because it’s my place of business, I pay the rent, I’ve built it with all my money and my doing. It’s my place; I can do whatever I want with it,” the anonymous restaurateur said. “They can have their lifestyle and do their own thing in their own place or with people that want to be with them.”
In response, Indiana has been flooded with criticism from politicians, celebrities, athletes and CEOs. Actor and LGBT rights advocate George Takei voiced his support for a boycott, writing on Facebook that he is “outraged that Gov. Pence would sign such a divisive measure into law” and calling the law a “terrible blight upon [Indiana’s] reputation.” The CEO of Salesforce, a corporation valued at $4 billion, blasted the law, stating on Twitter that they would be “forced to dramatically reduce our investment” in the state. Bill Oesterle, the CEO of Indianapolis-based Angie’s List, quickly followed suit, axing a proposed $40 million headquarters expansion.
Butler University president James Danko released a statement which read in part
While I have read a variety of opinions and rationale for RFRA, it strikes me as ill-conceived legislation at best, and I fear that some of those who advanced it have allowed their personal or political agendas to supersede the best interests of the State of Indiana and its people. . . . Butler is an institution where all people are welcome and valued, regardless of sexual orientation, religion, gender, race, or ethnicity . . . Butler was the first school in Indiana and third in the United States to enroll women as students on an equal basis with men, was among the first colleges in the nation to enroll African Americans, and was the second U.S. school to name a female professor to its faculty. I strongly encourage our state leaders to take immediate action to address the damage done by this legislation and to reaffirm the fact that Indiana is a place that welcomes, supports, respects, and values all people.
To top it off, religious groups including the Disciples of Christ have also condemned RFRA as “contrary to the values of our faith.”
Gov. Pence, for his part, spoke out in defense of the law, which he maintains is merely about “religious freedom” and nothing more. Saying he never anticipated “the hostility that’s been directed at our state” following the law’s passage, Pence stated that he now sought to “clarify” the law’s purpose. And by “clarify,” I mean repeatedly stonewall when anyone mentions homophobia.
Check out these excerpts from an interview between Gov. Pence and George Stephanopoulos. When asked point blank about the law’s effect on LGBT rights, Pence repeatedly shifts the discussion to government infringement of religious liberty. In fact, he does it eight times, and can’t even say with certainty whether or not he opposes anti-gay discrimination against his own constituents: