In a recent landmark legislation signed by Indiana Governor Mike Pence, businesses and individuals in Indiana now have the right to deny service to gay people. SB-101, or the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” will allow businesses to use “religious freedom” as a legal defense against state laws. This allows for discrimination; if businesses claim that providing service to members of the LGBT community would violate their “religious freedom,” they now reserve the right to refuse it.
Supporters of the Act claim that the new law will bring Indiana up to the standards for religious freedom imposed by the federal government. In a statement released on Monday, March 23, Governor Pence claimed that SB-101 “is about respecting and reassuring Hoosiers that their religious freedoms are intact.”
“I strongly support the legislation and applaud the members of the General Assembly for their work on this important issue,” said Pence, prior to its enactment. “I look forward to signing the bill when it reaches my desk.”
Indiana Senate Minority leaders called for the law to be repealed as soon as possible. Additionally, the Republican mayor of Indianapolis Greg Ballard signed an executive order to protect LGBT customers in the city, overriding the executive order.
“Discrimination is wrong,” he said at a press conference. “And I hope that message is being heard loud and clear at our Statehouse.”
In response to the new law, companies, politicians, organizations, and individuals around the nation have expressed outrage and disappointment. The NCAA issued a statement illustrating their disapproval and concern that the law would not facilitate “an inclusive environment” for the Final Four basketball event, which will begin on April 4. In protest, Wilco, a rock band, has cancelled a popular show in Indianapolis. In San Francisco, Mayor Edwin Lee publicly condemned the new law, and has prohibited city employees from travelling to Indiana. Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff has also denounced the law, and severed his company’s ties with the state. Apple CEO Tim Cook published an essay in Bloomberg Businessweek, expressing deep concern for the law and pride in his own sexuality.
The city of Indianapolis, Indiana, which has protective LGBT laws, has also waged protests against SB-101. With outside plans for events and expansions in Indiana stagnated, these organizations put state politicians in a headlock. Indiana lawmakers rushed to “clarify” the law in response to the widespread disapproval, but have yet to come up with an amendment to the new legislation to establish such clarity.
A similar state law restricting LGBT rights exists in Arizona today. Federal law protecting these civil rights remains minimal or non- existent.