Indiana Just Became a Very Unfriendly Place for Gay People

March 26th 2015

Indiana Governor Mike Pence (R) signed a controversial "religious freedom" bill into law on Thursday. Among other things, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act allows businesses to refuse service to same-sex couples on religious grounds. It is the first state to pass a religious freedom law in 2015.

Hillary Clinton, who is presumably running for president in 2016, spoke out against the Indiana bill: 

One of the harshest celebrity responses came from Miley Cyrus. "You're an a**hole @govpenceIN," the singer stated on Instagram (alongside a photo of Gov. pence). "The only place that has more idiots than Instagram is in politics." 

Actor and LGBT activist George Takei responded to the law's passage on social media by calling for a boycott of the state:

I will join many in demanding that socially responsible companies withdraw their business, conferences and support from his state and that LGBTs and our friends and supporters refuse to visit or do business with Indiana. It is a sad day for the Hoosier state, and indeed for the many good people of Indiana, for whom this law now stands as a terrible blight upon that state's reputation.

In the business community, the strongest reaction came from Salesforce CEO Mark Beinoff, who tweeted, "Today we are canceling all programs that require our customers/employees to travel to Indiana to face discrimination." He also said that the company would be forced to "dramatically reduce" investment in Indiana due to "employee's & customer's outrage" over the law.

The law "prevents state and local governments from 'substantially burdening' a person's exercise of religion [by requiring the business to serve someone] unless a compelling governmental interest can be proved," according to NPR. Because it has been almost impossible throughout history to meet the standard of a compelling governmental interest, the law offers very strong protection for businesses choosing to refuse service to same-sex couples. Many cities across the nation have passed anti-discriminatory laws to prevent same-sex couples from being refused service, but Indiana's law would supersede any similar, local anti-discrimination laws.

Gov. Pence stated that the bill would ensure that "religious liberty is fully protected under Indiana law" and also claims that the law's aim is not discriminatory. 

LGBTQ groups disagree and worry that the bill will allow discrimination against same-sex couples. 

“We have seen this over and over — bills that say they are about protecting one thing when the real goal is to target and discriminate against LGBT people, with vast implications for everyone else,” the organization Lambda Legal stated in a February release. "As written, this bill will upend the balance between religious freedom and freedom from imposition of others’ religious beliefs."

In a statement issued on Thursday, Lambda Legal called the bill "deeply flawed" and stated they were troubled that Gov. Pence signed it so hastily.

LGBTQ organizations are not the only ones speaking out against the bill. Democratic lawmakers, businesses, and the Disciples of Christ Church voiced their opposition. Gen Con, a large table-top gaming company, threatened to leave the state if the bill was passed, and the Disciples of Christ Church sent a letter to lawmakers saying it was contemplating moving its 6,000-person General Assembly out of Indianapolis if the bill was signed into law.

The NCAA, which is headquartered in Indianapolis, also released a statement, ahead of the men's March Madness Final Four games, which are slated to be played in Indianapolis next week. "We are examining the details of this bill," the statement read, "however, the NCAA national office is committed to an inclusive environment where all individuals enjoy equal access to events." The organization has yet to take a formal position on the matter, but it did say it was "especially concerned about how this legislation could affect [their] student-athletes and employees."

One basketball player did speak out against the bill. Former NBA player Jason Collins tweeted to Gov. Pence, "is it going to be legal for someone to discriminate against me & others when we come to the #FinalFour?"

Effects of "religious freedom" bills can be widespread, and don't only impact the LGBTQ community, the Daily Beast points out. Nineteen other states have similar bills, and Georgia's "religious freedom" bill is quickly coming down the pipeline.

In moments like this, we turn to a familiar satirist and a message against discrimination:

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