Indiana Republicans offered a fix to the state’s controversial religious freedom law — but is it enough?
The lawmakers responded to waves of criticism by changing the law on Thursday. The amended version — which must still be approved by both of Indiana’s legislative chambers and Gov. Mike Pence — explicitly does not allow businesses to deny services to gay people or minority groups. The so-called fix has already drawn a wave of mixed reactions, however.
The updated law says a company cannot refuse to offer or provide services, jobs, facilities, goods or housing accommodations “on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or U.S. military service.”
But the chief executive officer of Angie’s List, an online concierge to find companies to perform various household services, said “the ‘fix’ is insufficient.” Last week, he halted a planned expansion to its campus in Indianapolis over the religious freedom law.
“There was no repeal of RFRA and no end to discrimination of homosexuals in Indiana. Employers in most of the state of Indiana can fire a person simply for being Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender or Questioning. That’s just not right and that’s the real issue here. Our employees deserve to live, work and travel with open accommodations in any part of the state,” CEO Bill Oesterle said in a statement.
The “inclusion of all religious beliefs” was interpreted as “a message of exclusion,” especially for the LGBT community, Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma told reporters on Thursday ahead of the announcement. “Nothing could have been further from the truth, but it was clear it had to be addressed,” he added. “We value each and every Hoosier.”
It’s not clear if Pence will sign the bill — his chief of staff told The Indianapolis Star on Wednesday night he still needed to review the bill — but he on Tuesday said that he wanted lawmakers to “clarify” the legislation by Friday. He reportedly signed the original bill in private last Thursday — surrounded by a group of anti-LGBT activists — amid intense criticism from residents, tech leaders and celebrities. Pence said the law doesn’t give businesses the right to deny services to anyone.
Following Pence’s signing of the initial bill, activists, state leaders and businesses around the country arranged boycotts against Indiana. In addition, Govs. Andrew Cuomo of New York and Dannel Malloy of Connecticut signed executive orders banning state-funded travel there.
The University of Notre Dame affirmed its support for LGBT students by resurfacing a video originally produced in 2014. But, at the same time, the Catholic school is suing the federal government in court for being forced to provide birth control under the Affordable Care Act — using the religious freedom law as justification.
Mark Emmert, president of the NCAA, on Thursday said he was “very pleased” the Indiana legislature took action to amend the bill. The NCAA Final Four playoffs are scheduled to be played in Indiana on Saturday night. The NCAA, which is headquartered in Indiana, has publicly opposed the law, and ex-NBA players have pressured the organization to pull games out of the state.
Indiana’s controversial religious freedom law mimics those passed in 20 other states and draws from legislation passed at the federal level — but the crucial difference is that the state does not yet list gay and lesbians as a protected group under its anti-discrimination laws. Critics said this disparity originally opened up LGBT individuals to discrimination. The religious freedom law said people could use their personal religious conviction as a protection against discrimination suits. Local business leaders also explicitly said they would use the law to deny gay and lesbians service.
The legislative fix marked the first time the state has extended any kind of protections to people based on their sexual orientation. But it didn’t go as far as some activists had demanded, like making gay and lesbian people a protected class, or repealing the law.
The measure likely will rile up social conservatives, who stood behind the law and argued that Christians are routinely persecuted.
Meanwhile in Arkansas, Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson reversed course and asked lawmakers to revise a similar religious freedom bill to mirror the federal version passed more than two decades ago by former President Bill Clinton. He previously said he would sign the measure.