Last week, Indiana governor Mike Pence signed into law the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” which seems to have very little to do with freedom but a whole lot to do with discrimination and homophobia. New York State and City leaders expressed their outrage on Wednesday by announcing an official travel ban to a state best known for its rabid devotion to basketball and claim to being home to the worst smelling city in America—Gary.
According to DNAinfo, Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo told government officials to put a stop to any non-essential travel to Indiana. (Something which we’re sure ruined so many spring break plans.) All joking aside, though, as Mayor de Blasio explained at a press conference: “This proposed law in Indiana really undercuts decades and decades of progress on human rights and civil rights in this country. The notion that a government would allow, overtly, discrimination undercuts so much of what we fought for in the effort to be a truly inclusive and fair society,”
If you’re like me, though, and had a “Wait WTF?” reaction to this whole thing, allow me to elucidate what this all means: Effectively, the law offers support to business owners who wish to deny service to gay, lesbian, and transgender people based on their religious beliefs. Though it’s hard to say what kind of actual impact the law will have—and we’ve heard a bunch of people arguing that it will have few real consequences—the symbolic and potentially real consequences are enormous.
The institution of this law will mean that, instead of using legal means to protect a minority group–one that still needs protecting, particularly in light of the fact that Indiana is one of only five states without “penalty-enhancement hate crime” legislation—the law allows business owners to actively discriminate against a minority group.
And while we still have so, so many questions—how will these businesses determine if their customers are, um, gay? and why is sexuality considered even slightly pertinent when exchanging money for goods or services?—we are heartened by the intense backlash, which has included calls to boycott Indiana businesses, and has inspired the Indiana Governor and State Republicans to call for renegotiating the terms of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. See, as it turns out, the one thing Republican lawmakers need more than the religious right’s vote, is campaign funds from corporate-heads and billionaire boys.
The New York Times reports that some lawmakers have already come out in support of an amendment to the act: “We are sorry that that misinterpretation hurt so many people,” Indiana House Speaker, Brian C. Bosma said. “I think the national concerns that were raised, that we’re all hearing about, are put to bed.”
So maybe this is a legitimate example of public shaming really working? Or maybe this is a desperate PR move on the part of Indiana after lawmakers came to the realization that perhaps the rest of the country is not as homophobic as their own constituency? Gay rights groups insist the proposed change to the legislation is not enough. Stay tuned to see if Indiana can fix this mess and reclaim the throne as the hot spot for spring break getaways.