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Indiana Sends 'License to Discriminate' to Governor's Desk

Indiana Sends 'License to Discriminate' to Governor's Desk

Less than a week after it passed out of committee, legislation in Indiana that would allow businesses to turn away customers who somehow offend the owner's religious beliefs — and seemingly targeted at LGBT residents — is headed to the governor's desk. 

Senate Bill 101, also known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, passed the Indiana House of Representatives by a vote of 63-31 Monday, reports LGBT blog The New Civil Rights Movement.

The legislation passed the Senate in February and now goes to Republican Gov. Mike Pence, who is expected to sign it into law, despite the vocal opposition of numerous prominent business leaders, including the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce.

As with similar legislation introduced around the country, the Indiana bill does not specifically mention LGBT people or same-sex marriage. Instead, it couches its so-called license to discriminate in a stated desire to protect "religious freedom." 

By doing so, SB 101 inculcates any "person" — defined as an individual, organization, religious society, church, corporation, company, "unincorporated association or another entity" — from any "government entity" that may "substantially burden a person's exercise of religion." The legislation does not define what constitutes a "substantial burden," though it does provide relief for the possibility that such religious freedom might be burdened in the future. 

While similar bills have been introduced in several conservative states that have been court-ordered to embrace marriage equality, only one state has signed such a bill into law: Mississippi. If Gov. Pence signs SB 101 into law, he will have approved legislation strikingly similar to that vetoed by former Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer last year amid national outcry. 

Advocacy groups are urging the Republican governor to veto the bill, with the National LGBTQ Task Force Calling the legislation the "Nation's Most Anti-LGBTQ Law." 

"Lawmakers in Indiana have chosen to ignore an unprecedented chorus of voices speaking out in opposition to this draconian bill," said Task Force executive director Rea Carey in a Monday statement. "Governor Pence now has the opportunity to follow the lead of former Governor Jan Brewer in similar circumstances and to veto this appalling law. The truth is, this new law will undoubtedly damage Indiana’s reputation as a welcoming place. Instead, the state will now be viewed as completely out-of-step and a place where it isn’t good to live and do business. What these politicians are peddling as 'religious liberty' is not real religious liberty. This law is an out-right recipe for discrimination and persecution."

Notably, 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. The state does have marriage equality, thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court's action last year letting stand an appeals court decision that struck down the state's ban on same-sex marriage.

Tags: Politics, Indiana

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