The state of Indiana has just passed a law that is billed as protecting religious freedoms, but which has been seen as a way for businesses and associations to openly discriminate against the LGBT community.
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was passed overwhelmingly by the Republican led-state legislature and signed into law on Thursday, blocks local and state laws designed to protect gay people that “substantially burden” a person’s ability to follow his or her religious beliefs. It was signed by the Indiana’s Republican governor Mike Pence.
The definition of a “person” includes religious institutions, businesses and associations. Opponents say it is discriminatory against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people and is broader than other states' religious freedom laws.
Arkansas’s senate overwhelmingly approved a similar law a day later.
Governor Pence defended Indiana’s new law when he appeared on ABC TV’s “This Week”, but did not answer directly when asked six times whether it would be legal for a business to refuse to serve gay customers.
He instead said the law is “about empowering people to confront government overreach”.
The law has gained widespread opposition and on Saturday thousands of people marched through the state’s biggest city, Indianapolis, waving rainbow flags and signs stating “No hate in our state” and “I’m pretty sure God doesn’t hate anyone”.
Governor Pence’s spokeswoman Kara Brooks claimed that “this bill is not about discrimination, and does not in any way legalise discrimination in Indiana,” but the state is already facing severe backlash from businesses over the decision.
Tim Cook, one of the most prominent openly gay American business leaders, joined other executives in blasting the law on Friday, while business-rating website Angie’s List halted plans to expand its Indianapolis business over the law.
“Angie’s List is open to all and discriminates against none and we are hugely disappointed in what this bill represents,” chief executive Bill Oesterle said.
Seattle’s openly gay mayor, Ed Murray, declared he will ban city employees from travelling to Indiana on official business: “None of our taxpayer dollars should go toward supporting this discriminatory law,” he said.
Additional reporting by agencies
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