In response to extensive backlash, Republican lawmakers in Indiana have agreed to clarify the Religious Freedom Restoration Act signed into law by Governor Mike Pence last week. The bill in its current form asserts that the state government cannot “substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion,” meaning that individuals or private businesses may have recourse to the law if they feel that providing services to particular individuals infringes upon their religious beliefs.
Lawmakers stated that the fix would appease critics who argue that the bill grants Indiana businesses legal backing to discriminate against gay customers based on religious grounds. An often cited example is that of a bakery that would refuse to cater to same-sex marriages; the law’s wording would sanction this move and would shield the business against a lawsuit.
Governor Pence vehemently rejects the claim that the law is discriminatory. In a press conference he stated, “This bill is not about discrimination. And if I thought it was about discrimination I would have vetoed it.” Pence believes the controversy is due to mischaracterization of the law.
“If it were simply a mischaracterization, clarification wouldn’t be necessary,” Indiana native and Professor of Sociology Emily Fairchild wrote in an email.
Supporters of the bill note that 20 states and the federal government already have a Religious Freedom laws. These laws, however, contain language that specifically forbids discrimination. “Without laws protecting sexual orientation, the [Indiana] law is not the same as other religious freedom laws,” Fairchild noted.
The law caused swift resistance within the state as well as nationwide. Prior to its passing, tens of thousands of Indiana residents had already signed a petition asking the governor to veto the bill. Thousands more showed up to protest on the steps of the state capitol after the bill was signed. Same-sex marriage has been legally recognized in Indiana since 2014, and according to polls, 80 percent of the state’s residents agree that the LGBTQ community should have equal civil rights protections.
Information for this article was taken from cnn.com and washingtonpost.com