Indiana is in the dog house … is Arkansas next?

IndianapolisLast 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.

Indiana RFRA signing
Sometimes a picture can say a thousand words … this one speaks volumes about the repeated assertions that Indiana’s ‘religious freedom’ law is not homophobic (image circulate by GLAAD)

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:

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

American Airlines

Charles Barkley

Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce

Warren Buffett

Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Hillary Clinton

Jason Collins

Tim Cook, CEO of Apple

Miley Cyrus, singer

Harvey Fierstein, entertainer

Gap Inc.

Gen Con

General Electric

Honey Maid

Indiana Fever

Indiana Pacers

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 International

Audra McDonald, actress

John Mellencamp, musician


National Basketball Association (NBA)

National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA)

National Football League (NFL)



Arnold Schwarzenegger, actor & politician

George Takei, actor


White House

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.


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!

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