Hundreds of people, some carrying signs reading “No hate in our state,” gathered on Saturday outside the Indiana Statehouse for a boisterous rally against a new state law that opponents say could sanction discrimination against gay people.
Since Indiana Governor Mike Pence, a Republican, signed the bill into law on Thursday, Indiana has been widely criticized by businesses and organizations around the US, as well as on social media with the hashtag #boycottindiana. Local officials and business groups around the state hope to stem the fallout, although consumer review service Angie’s List on Saturday said that it is suspending a planned expansion in Indianapolis because of the new law.
Pence told the Indianapolis Star on Saturday that he has been in touch with legislative leaders and expects another bill to be introduced this coming week to “clarify the intent” of the law. He declined to provide details, but said making gay and lesbian residents a protected legal class is “not on my agenda.”
The law’s supporters contend discrimination claims are overblown and insist it will keep the government from compelling people to provide services they find objectionable on religious grounds. They also maintain that courts have not allowed discrimination under similar laws covering the federal government and 19 other states.
However, Indiana Representative Ed DeLaney, an Indianapolis Democrat, said the state’s law goes further than those laws and opens the door to discrimination.
“This law does not openly allow discrimination, no, but what it does is create a road map, a path to discrimination,” he told the crowd at the rally. “Indiana’s version of this law is not the same as that in other states. It adds all kinds of new stuff and it moves us further down the road to discrimination.”
The measure, which takes effect in July, prohibits state laws that “substantially burden” a person’s ability to follow his or her religious beliefs. The definition of “person” includes religious institutions, businesses and associations.
The US Supreme Court is set to hear arguments next month over the constitutionality of same-sex marriage. Sixteen states have introduced legislation this year aimed at preventing government from infringing on people’s religious beliefs, according to the US National Conference of State Legislatures.
Angie’s List had sought an US$18.5 million incentive package from Indianapolis’ City-County Council to add 1,000 jobs over five years. However, founder and CEO Bill Oseterle said in a statement on Saturday that the expansion was on hold “until we fully understand the implications of the freedom restoration act on our employees.”
Saturday’s crowd, for which police did not have an exact estimate, chanted “Pence must go!” several times and many people held signs that read phrases such as “I’m pretty sure God doesn’t hate anyone” and “No hate in our state.”
Among those attending the rally was Jennifer Fox, a 40-year-old from Indianapolis who was joined by her wife, Erin Fox, and their two boys, ages 5 and 8, and other relatives.
Fox said they married in June last year on the first day that same-sex marriage became legal in Indiana under a federal court ruling. She believes the religious objections law is a sort of reward to Republican lawmakers and their conservative Christian constituents who strongly opposed the court ruling legalizing gay marriage in the state.
“I believe that’s where this is coming from — to find ways to push their own agenda, which is not a religious agenda; it’s aimed at a specific section of people,” Fox said.
Although many Indianapolis businesses have expressed opposition to the law and support for gays and lesbians, Fox worries her family could be turned away from a restaurant or other business and that her sons would suffer emotionally.
“I certainly would not want them to think that there’s something wrong with our family, because we’re a loving family,” she said.
Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, a Republican who opposed the law, said he and other city officials would be talking to many businesses and convention planners to counter the uproar the law has caused.
“I’m more concerned about making sure that everyone knows they can come in here and feel welcome,” Ballard said.
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