Indiana Gov. Mike Pence on Thursday approved a fix to the wording of the state’s controversial “religious freedom” act, clarifying that the measure does not allow for businesses to discriminate against certain groups. It followed widespread criticism that the law, as originally written, could be used to refuse service to LGBT people.
The language added to the bill says unambiguously that Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) may not be used as a legal defense for companies to decline services, goods, public accommodation, employment or housing on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation.
Explaining the amendment, statehouse Speaker Brian Bosma, a Republican, said, “What was intended as a message of inclusion was interpreted as exclusion for the LGBT community. Nothing was further from the truth, but it was clear that the perception had to be addressed.”
He added, “We’ll be releasing what we believe is a very strong statement to make sure every Hoosier’s rights are protected and won’t be infringed upon by the enactment of RFRA.”
“Religious rights and individual rights can exist in harmony,” said Senate President Pro Tem David Long, also a Republican. “Hoosier hospitality is not just a saying. It’s a way of life, and I hope people come to understand that.”
The Indiana law attracted the ire of gay activists as well as the business community — including several of the state's biggest corporations — late last week after Pence, a Republican, signed it into law.
State lawmakers voted through the amended language, and Pence signed off on it. It is the first protection explicitly extended to LGBT people in Indiana law.
“Dozens of people have struggled together to find the right words to allow us to move past this crisis,” said former Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson, now the CEO of Indiana-based pharmaceutical firm Eli Lilly. “They found the words because the future of Indiana was at stake and they value the future of our state above a desire to win, above a need for ideological purity, above the demands of politics.”
The compromise language did not fully quell the anger of LGBT advocates, some of whom have called for repealing the law or for gays and lesbians to be listed as a protected class under Indiana’s anti-discrimination statutes.
“The harm has been lessened, but we have not reached the day when LGBT Hoosiers can be assured that they can live their lives with freedom from discrimination,” Katie Blair, the campaign manager of the LGBT group Freedom Indiana, said in a statement. “It’s long past time to enact a comprehensive nondiscrimination law, and we must continue to work to ensure, once and for all, that the RFRA cannot be used to discriminate against or hurt anyone.”