A “license to discriminate” bill advanced further in Indiana yesterday, with a committee in the state House of Representatives approving it and moving it to the full House for consideration.
If the bill passes on the House floor, it will go to the desk of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who supports the legislation and is expected to sign it into law if if clears both chambers of the legislature.
The bill, which the state Senate OK’d in February, passed the House Judiciary Committee by a vote of 9-4, The Indianapolis Star reports. The measure would allow businesses to turn away customers who somehow offend the owner’s religious beliefs — for instance, in what seems to be the bill’s primary target, same-sex couples who want wedding-related goods and services.
Backers of the legislation, however, contend that it’s a necessary move to protect business operators’ religious freedom — it’s even called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
“We need to be protected from the government interfering in our religious exercise,” said Rep. Tim Wesco, the bill’s sponsor, according to the Star.
Four hours of testimony came before the vote, featuring impassioned comments from both supporters and opponents of the legislation, the Star reports. “Discrimination should not be practiced under the disguise of religious liberty,” said one opponent, the Rev. Dan Gangler, a spokesman for the Indiana Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Another clergy member voiced support for the bill. “People that have my approach toward scripture are much more worried about government because we can’t bend our religious beliefs,” said Tim Overton, a Southern Baptist pastor from Muncie.
The Star notes that opponents of the bill are better organized than they once were, and that representatives of several large Indiana employers, such as engine maker Cummins and health care provider Eskenazi Health, testified against the measure.
Indiana does not have a statewide ban on discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in public accommodations, which would cover business-customer transactions. Three cities in the state ban such discrimination in public accommodations: Bloomington, Indianapolis, and South Bend, according to the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index. Evansville and Fort Wayne ban public-accommodations discrimination based on sexual orientation, but not gender identity.
With the spread of marriage equality, so-called license to discriminate bills have been introduced in several states, but so far such a measure has become law in only one, Mississippi. In Arizona, Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed one last year.