Indiana Gov. Mike Pence has signed into law an amendment to "fix" the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which has drawn the ire of LGBT advocates and business leaders nationwide for what they claim is a "license to discriminate."
The amendment, which passed the state House by a vote of 66-30 and the state Senate by a vote of 34-16, according to Indianapolis TV station WXIN, makes the law's only reference to sexual orientation or gender identity.
In fact, the new statute marks the first time "sexual orientation" or "gender identity" has ever been included in Indiana law, said Bart Peterson, a former Indianapolis mayor who now works for Eli Lilly, an Indianapolis-based company that came out against the law.
The new language primarily seeks to define what the law does not do:
"This chapter does not: (1) authorize a provider to refuse to offer or provide services, facilities, use of public accommodations, goods, employment, or housing to any member or members of the general public on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or United States military services; (2) establish a defense to a civil action or criminal prosecution for refusal by a provider to offer or provide services, facilities, use of public accommodations, goods, employment, or housing to any member or members of the general public on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or United States military Service."
"Over the past week this law has become a subject of great misunderstanding and controversy across our state and nation," said the governor in a statement Thursday evening. (Read the governor's full statement on the following page). "However we got here, we are where we are, and it is important that our state take action to address the concerns that have been raised and move forward."
House Speaker Brian Bosma, a Republican representing Indianapolis, echoed the governor's comments at a press conference Thursday after the House sent the bill to Gov. Pence.
"It was clear that the perception had to be addressed," Bosma said, according to WXIN. "Hoosier hospitality had to be restored. … We’re here to announce that it’s fixed."
While LGBT advocates acknowledged that the amendment is an improvement to the law, most organizations were still critical of the overall intention of Indiana's RFRA, which is much broader than the 1993 federal legislation on which it was purportedly based.
Noting that the amendment limits the damage of the state's RFRA, the Human Rights Campaign highlighted that LGBT Hoosiers are still without statewide nondiscrimination protections in housing, education, employment, and public accommodations. That in effect means it is still legal to deny LGBT people in Indiana housing, education, a job, or access to public accommodations — except in those localities that have implemented more inclusive nondiscrimination ordinances.
"The measure fails to explicitly ensure that the RFRA won’t be used to undermine the full scope of Indiana existing non-discrimination laws, and does not add LGBT non-discrimination protections to the state’s civil rights laws," wrote the advocacy group in an email to supporters Thursday evening. To explain the limitations of the RFRA amendment and how it does not impact statewide nondiscrimination law, HRC released this graphic explaining the patchwork state of LGBT equality in Indiana:
As news and drafts of the proposed "fix" began circulating Thursday morning, some businesses said the measure still didn't go far enough. The CEO of Angie's List, an Indianapolis-based business-review website that has been one of the most vocal critics of the law, made plain why his company still opposes the amended RFRA on Thursday morning.
"Employers in most of the state of Indiana can fire a person simply for being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning," said CEO Bill Oesterle. "That's just not right and that's the real issue here. Our employees deserve to live, work and travel with open accommodations in any part of the state."
Read Gov. Pence's statement on the amended law on the next page...
From Indiana Gov. Mike Pence:
“The freedom of religion for every Hoosier is enshrined in the Constitution of the United States and in the Indiana Constitution, which reads, ‘No law shall, in any case whatever, control the free exercise and enjoyment of religious opinions, or interfere with the rights of conscience.’ For generations, these protections have served as a bulwark of religious liberty for Hoosiers and remain a foundation of religious liberty in the State of Indiana, and that will not change.
“Last week the Indiana General Assembly passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act raising the judicial standard that would be used when government action intrudes upon the religious liberty of Hoosiers, and I was pleased to sign it.
“Over the past week this law has become a subject of great misunderstanding and controversy across our state and nation. However we got here, we are where we are, and it is important that our state take action to address the concerns that have been raised and move forward.
“Last weekend I called upon the Indiana General Assembly to clarify that this new judicial standard would not create a license to discriminate or to deny services to any individual as its critics have alleged. I am grateful for the efforts of legislators, business and other community leaders who came together to forge this clarifying language in the law.
“Hoosiers deserve to know, that even with this legislation, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act enhances protections for every church, non-profit religious organization or society, religious school, rabbi, priest, preacher, minister or pastor in the review of government action where their religious liberty is infringed. The law also enhances protection in religious liberty cases for groups of individuals and businesses in conscience decisions that do not involve provision of goods and services, employment and housing.
“In the midst of this furious debate, I have prayed earnestly for wisdom and compassion, and I have felt the prayers of people across this state and across this nation. For that I will be forever grateful.
“There will be some who think this legislation goes too far and some who think it does not go far enough, but as governor I must always put the interest of our state first and ask myself every day, ‘What is best for Indiana?’ I believe resolving this controversy and making clear that every person feels welcome and respected in our state is best for Indiana.
“Our state is rightly celebrated for our pro-business environment, and we enjoy an international reputation for the hospitality, generosity, tolerance and kindness of our people. Hoosier hospitality is not a slogan; it is our way of life. Now that this is behind us, let’s move forward together with a renewed commitment to the civility and respect that make this state great.”