The Indiana House of Representatives passed a bill on Monday that would shield individuals, businesses and other organizations who object to a law based on their religion.
The bill — which opponents call a “license to discriminate” and supporters call “religious freedom” — won the support of the Republican-controlled chamber. A Senate version of the bill passed last month in a party-line vote.
The bill would ban any state or local laws that “substantially burden” a person’s religious beliefs. The authors of the measure extended the definition of “person” to include businesses and other organizations.
Critics of the broadly-worded bill warn that it would have far-reaching consequences. Under the bill, it would be legal for a business to deny service to a person simply for being gay. The ACLU warns that the bill could also be used to deny contraception, or as justification for firing an unwed pregnant woman.
Similar laws in other states have been used to justify a refusal of medical care. A lesbian couple’s baby was refused treatment in Michigan from a doctor who cited that state’s so-called “religious freedom” law.
Nothing in the law specifically protects groups from large-scale discrimination.
Opponents are worried that the Indiana bill will effectively nullify municipal protections, such as South Bend’s Human Rights Ordinance (HRO). The HRO bans discrimination in employment, housing and access to public accommodations on the basis of on race, color, sex, disability, national origin and ancestry, sexual orientation and gender identity.
Republicans shot down amendments that would preserve municipal ordinance protections. Republicans also voted down an amendment that would have required businesses who refuse services to LGBT people to state so publicly with a sign.
Indiana is one of twenty-six states considering anti-gay laws in the current legislative session. Human Rights Campaign has documented at least 85 bills being considered across the US that do everything from targeting municipal non-discrimination ordinances to criminalizing the use of specific restrooms for transgender people.
The spate of anti-gay bills comes at a time when a record number of states have become marriage equality states either through legislation or court order. Thirty-five states plus DC recognized same-sex marriages as legal at the end of 2014. Alabama and Florida became the thirty-sixth and thirty-seventh states in early 2015.
Indiana was among the states that saw same-sex marriage bans struck down in 2014. The state was forced to recognize same-sex marriage just last year. The anti-gay legislation comes less than six months after the Supreme Court denied Indiana’s appeal of a federal district court’s decision that found the state’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.
The fate of the so-called “religious freedom” bill will ultimately be in the hands of Indiana Governor Mike Pence. Freedom Indiana — the organization leading efforts to oppose the RFRA — is urging its members to push the governor to veto the legislation.
Former Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, who like Pence is also a stridently conservative politician, vetoed similar legislation in Arizona last year after a bipartisan outcry from the business community, including the Super Bowl host committee and Republican Senators Jeff Flake and John McCain.
Brewer criticized the “broadly worded” nature of the bill that “could result in unintended and negative consequences.”
The same outcome appears less likely in Indiana, as Pence has already signaled that he supports the legislation.
Image Credit: Noah Coffey, flickr