March 31, 2015

By Jane Henegar, Executive Director, ACLU of Indiana

Repeated attempts by Governor Pence to "clarify" Indiana's RFRA have fueled, instead of calmed, the outrage overtaking Hoosiers and the rest of the country. The governor's actions have not demonstrated sufficiently that discrimination does not define our state.

In a press conference, Pence said "It would be helpful to move legislation this week that makes it clear that this law does not give businesses a right to deny services to anyone," But then he refused to extend protections to LGBTQ Hoosiers and visitors to Indiana.

Everyone understands what RFRA is about, even if the governor and lawmakers have refused to listen to the tens of thousands of people, businesses, celebrities, faith leaders and others across the country who have been speaking out for weeks to say this law is bad for business and devastating for Indiana's reputation as a welcoming state.

Certainly GenCon, Salesforce, Exact Target, and Subaru understand. Companies from Indianapolis to South Bend, and mayors from Connecticut to Seattle who have banned city employee travel to Indiana, know the timing of this legislation is no accident. Everyone is questioning whether all are welcome here.

The timing of this legislation is all important to understanding its intent: the bill was introduced as a backlash reaction to achieving marriage equality for same-sex couples in Indiana. We've seen evidence of this in calls for action from the bill's supporters, like Eric Miller from Advance America, who said the law will "protect individuals, Christian businesses and churches from those supporting homosexual marriages."

The legislature and the Governor can fix this. They can enact full statewide civil rights protections for LGBTQ Hoosiers and visitors to our state and clarify that RFRA cannot override state and local civil rights laws. The unfortunate truth is that members of the LGBTQ community in Indiana, despite advances, still remain vulnerable to discrimination. Indiana still lacks a statewide civil rights law that protects against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The few communities in Indiana with enforceable protections against discrimination for LGBTQ individuals may now have those protections trumped by a claim under the state RFRA.

Not too long ago in our history, religious beliefs were used to justify discrimination against interracial couples. Nobody should be subjected to such harm to their dignity and liberty simply because of who they are and who they love.

The ACLU will remain vigilant. We will continue to push legislators and the courts until all members of the LGBTQ community are fully equal under the law. Until then, the circumstances in which this law has been passed have placed Indiana on the wrong side of history. We can fix that.

 

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