Last updated: 3 April 2015
There have been significant victories for LGBTI human rights in the United States over the past few years, including the seemingly unstoppable rise of marriage equality across the country.
However, that success is being tainted by a growing conservative, religious backlash which has discovered a new method of undermining the human rights, liberties and freedoms of their fellow citizens: so-called ‘religious freedom’ bills. Strangely, such efforts are on the milder end of the spectrum with other efforts going in very strange, even genocidal directions. Human Rights Campaign noted Republican-controlled legislatures have introduced more than 85 anti-LGBTI bills in 28 US states.
Don’t be mislead by the innocuous names. These are bigoted, hateful, discriminatory anti-LGBTI legislation. Under these bills LGBTI could lose protection against so-called ‘conversion therapy’, or be denied a range of rights. Not just a cake or flowers, although that’s repugnant enough, but adoption and, in some cases, even lifesaving medical treatment on ‘religious’ grounds.
And not just citizens, but big corporations are taking note and a stand.
The latest US State to dabble with anti-gay legislation is Indiana, where Republican Governor Mike Pence signed into law a bill that allows private businesses to discriminate against gay and lesbian consumers. The so-called ‘Restoration of Religious Freedom Act‘ is designed to allow businesses and corporations to cite ‘religious beliefs’ as a defense, should they be sued by a private party for discrimination.
As the Indianapolis Star pointed out, there are significant differences between the Indiana legislation and a similar Federal law Governor Pence was initially trying to fall back on as a defence for enacting the law.
Thankfully, there has been an immediate and unequivocal reaction to this backward step by Indiana, from political and business leaders, entertainers and civil rights organisations alike:
- Tech industry leaders make unprecedented and historic joint statement to legislators (HRC Blog, 1 April 2015)
As a consequence of the outrage sparked by the new law, as illustrated by many other responses below, Indiana was forced to amend the legislation by specifying the ‘religious freedom’ law does not:
… 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 State.
As it has been pointed out, this is the first time in Indiana’s legislative history that the phrases ‘sexual orientation’ or ‘gender identity’ appear in Indiana legislation in the context of non-discrimination.
However, some, such as Bill Oesterle, CEO of local business Angie’s List, still considers this amendment insufficient because it is not a full repeal of the law:
Our position is that this ‘fix’ is insufficient. There was no repeal of RFRA and no end to discrimination of homosexuals in Indiana.
Employers in most of the state of Indiana can fire a person simply for being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning.
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.
Even though the repeated assertions were that the law was not designed to target the LGBTI community, the responses to the amendment by some, such as the conservative activist group Advance America, were most illuminating, noting that in their view the amendment would:
… destroy the Religious Freedom Restoration Act passed earlier by the General Assembly!
Among the things that will happen, Christian bakers, florists and photographers would now be forced by the government to participate in a homosexual wedding or else they would be punished by the government! That’s not right!
Advance America, beyond an entirely misleading name, overlooks the simple fact that while LGBTI are in fact most likely born that way, no one is really ‘born Christian’ (one may have been born to Christian parents, but that’s all), a baker, a florist or a photographer. If you are in the business of providing goods and services to the public, do just that. If you can’t do that, do something else!
The Family Research Council also chimed in with their own statement, making it clear the law was always aimed at the LGBTI community and in particular same-sex marriage:
This proposal would force religious businesses and even nonprofits deemed ‘not religious enough’ to participate in wedding ceremonies contrary to their owners’ beliefs. If the government punishes people for living their faith, there are no limits to what government can control.
In the words of Judge Constance Harm, the incomparable cartoon judge from The Simpsons, ‘Don’t spit on my cupcake and tell me it’s frosting!’
- Angie’s list withdraws campus expansion proposal due to passage of religious freedom bill (28 March 2015)
- Charles Barkley comes out strongly against Indiana’s ‘religious freedom’ law (USA Today, 27 March 2015)
Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce
- Sexual orientation should be protected by law (CNN Money, 31 March 2015)
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
- Ministry leaders send letter to governor (25 March 2015)
Tim Cook, CEO of Apple
Miley Cyrus, singer
Harvey Fierstein, entertainer
Larry King, broadcaster & journalist
Stephen King, author
Ashton Kutcher, actor
Mayor Edwin M. Lee, City of San Francisco
Max Levchin, Corporate director at Yahoo!, Co-founder of Paypal
Levi Strauss & Co.
- Marriott CEO speaks out against RFRA (NBC News, 31 March 2015)
Audra McDonald, actress
John Mellencamp, musician
- John Mellencamp calls for changes to RFRA law (Indianapolis Star, 2 April 2015)
National Basketball Association (NBA)
National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA)
- Statement on Indiana religious freedom bill (26 March 2015)
National Football League (NFL)
- NFL, Big Ten reviewing implications of Indiana religious freedom bill (The Indianapolis Star, 28 March 2015)
- Nike president & CEO condemns Indiana’s new RFRA law (WLFI 18, 31 March 2015)
Arnold Schwarzenegger, actor & politician
- Indiana’s religious freedom law is bad for Republicans (The Washington Post, 3 April 2015)
George Takei, actor
- White House criticizes Indiana’s discriminatory religious freedom law (Metro Weekly, 27 March 2015)
Women’s National Basketball Association
While it is horrible to know an entire legislature has the mindset to pass a law this archaic and evil, at the same time it is reassuring to see the responding outrage.
In the meantime Arkansas also advanced a similar bill.
- Walmart asks Arkansas Governor to veto religion freedom bill (The Huffington Post, 31 March 2015)
Just as Indiana was eventually forced to amend its discriminatory legislation, Arkansas was also forced to back down and revise its version of the bill to explicitly deny people the right to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.
Keep raging y’all!