A controversial Indiana bill aimed at protecting the rights of wedding businesses opposed to same-sex marriage is now law amid criticisms and threats of boycotts. Gov. Mike Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law in a closed-door ceremony, and the Indiana governor continues to support it, stating the bill will not open the door to widespread discrimination. Now, organizations from religious organizations to athletic associations are left to consider how to handle their responses.
Senate Bill (S.B.) 101, known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, allows businesses to decline customers who require services that violate the business owners’ religious beliefs without fear of government repercussions or lawsuits. Concerns stretch beyond the gay community to other minorities and business leaders that the allowance in the religious freedom bill will open the door to other forms of discrimination.
Those supporting the religious freedom bill state the law in Indiana is not about allowing racism or ongoing discrimination, but is needed to protect Christian-owned businesses, most of which are small family owned shops, from being targeted by activists in order to shut the business down. Christian-owned wedding businesses from florists to bed and breakfast inns have been sued in Kentucky, California, Illinois, New Mexico, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington.
A church in New Jersey was also sued for not allowing a same-sex ceremony and a judge ruled against the church when the issue was taken to court. Additionally, individuals with strict religious beliefs have been thrown into the fray with an Allstate insurance employee fired after writing an essay showing opposition to same-sex marriage. Kelvin Cochran, serving as Atlanta’s fire chief, was terminated from his job after he included his views on homosexuality in a book he had published. These incidents are why religious freedom bills’ supporters claim they are necessary.
Similar religious freedom bills have been considered in 16 states, but have only become law in one – Mississippi. Arizona made headlines in considering a religious freedom bill in 2014, but its governor vetoed the bill stating there was not a need for it in that state because no lawsuits were filed against Christian businesses. States considering similar religious freedom bills now are Texas, Arkansas, Michigan, Hawaii and Georgia. Georgia had considered the bill before, but it failed, and the state is reconsidering it this legislative session. In Georgia, Muslim and Jewish groups are opposing the bill with the belief that it would allow racial discrimination. Those supporting the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, including Indiana’s governor, stand by the religious freedom law and claim it could not allow racism because that would contrary to current anti-discrimination laws on the books.
Local businesses, and even other Republicans, are divided in the Indiana bill. Passing S.B. 101 has put the state in the heat of criticism from the LGBT community and the business community, which is fearful of boycotts. Gen Con, a convention group based in Seattle, said they would move their operations from Indianapolis. That prompted a call to the governor from Mayor Greg Ballard asking Pence veto the bill. The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) will discuss moving its annual convention from the city in 2017. The NCAA, which is holding the Final Four in the city this year, is trying to hold the line on comments about what it will do in the future, but basketball organizers have expressed concern about the bill’s ramifications.
Even with all the criticism, Indiana’s governor is standing by the religious freedom law. Pence said the law was patterned after a federal law passed by Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton in the 1990s. The governor said the law has proven itself for more than 20 years without violating discrimination laws and he expects the same in Indiana.
By Melody Dareing
Photo by Indiana GLBT Connections – Flickr license