Indiana’s new law, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, has recently sparked a lot of controversy with polarized reactions to its contents. This law prevents government from intruding on a person’s religious liberty, unless there is compelling government interest to enact that burden. This law poses a huge potential to legalize the discrimination of people on the basis of their sexual orientation due to the vague language in the law. This law defines “a person” as more than individuals but also as “a partnership, a limited liability company, a corporation, a company, a firm” and more. Giving rights to these structures brings questions of the extent to which this law can be executed. Currently, most of Indiana does not have a law stating that discrimination due to sexual orientation is illegal, and in the few localities where it does exist, there is a fear that this bill will provide a basis to have it repealed.
Arguments have been presented that this law was born under the necessity to ensure religious freedom, as similar laws in Connecticut and numerous other states exist for that reason. However, according to the Indianapolis Star, Sen. Scott Schneider, a main sponsor of the Indiana legislation, has expressed the sentiments that the law would exempt Christian businesses from providing wedding services to gay couples. Other supporters of the law include anti-gay lobbyists Micah Clark, Curt Smith and Eric Miller. It is impossible to deny the intent of this law when the main supporters of it have voiced their prejudiced intentions in the matter.
Throughout the history of the United States, religion it has been used as an excuse to discriminate. Verses in the Bible used to be utilized as support for slavery and racism. It has been a long time since this thought process has been considered valid, yet this legislation is permitting the same sort of behavior against the LGBTQ community. Religion should not be a basis for discrimination, and religious freedom laws should be legislated for the premise of accepting different practices instead of treating a community as second class citizens. As stated by Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy in an address banning state-sponsored travel to Indiana, “We cannot sit idly by and do nothing while laws are enacted that will turn back the clock.” This country is past the point in our history when it was acceptable to use religion as an excuse for bigotry, and this legislation is risking that progress made toward equality.
Last year, an attempt was made in Arizona to pass their own version of this act, and it did not make it into law because of possible “unintended and negative consequences” as then Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer commented on the bill. It was never specified if these consequences were referencing the possible discrimination that would result or the media backlash that is currently occurring in Indiana. Many other states in our nation, including Connecticut, have religious freedom acts similar to the one that was just passed in Indiana. Most of these laws, however, were created about 20 years ago before the shift of support for gay rights in the 2000s. Since these bills were passed into law, most of these states have legislated nondiscrimination acts that ensure rights for all sexual orientations. This legislation has protected many states from the full potential of their religious freedom laws. Indiana’s lack of a nondiscrimination law exacerbates the situation against the LGBTQ community.
It is evident that there is a problem with this legislation that needs to be resolved. Indiana Gov. Mike Pence has asked legislators to pass a bill that clarifies that business owners are not allowed to discriminate in the provision of services. However, this is not enough. Indiana needs a bill that clearly states the equality of people of all sexual orientations. Once this is passed, the religious freedom restoration act would not threaten the LGBTQ community as much, and a clarification of this bill would be enough to solve the problem.