With big Republican wins in the 2014 elections, some state legislatures will be more conservative than they’ve been in some time. Several have already announced plans to introduce “religious liberty” legislation modeled after a dozen similar bills that failed across the country last year. Indiana lawmakers are already drafting one of these “license to discriminate” bills.
A bill to be offered by Sen. Scott Schneider (R) — still being fine-tuned for introduction — would borrow language from the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), legislation several other states have passed. But while RFRAs advanced in previous years were designed to prohibit the government from burdening the religious beliefs of citizens, Indiana’s bill would allow individuals to use their religious beliefs to defend themselves in court even if the state is not party to the case. Thus, this would allow a business owner to use their religious beliefs to justify refusing services for a same-sex couple’s wedding. As a state law, this would supersede any municipal nondiscrimination laws that protect LGBT people.
It’s not just LGBT advocates who think it’s a pro-discrimination bill; its own proponents admit it. Micah Clark of the American Family Association explained to The Indianapolis Star that the bill would allow small businesses to refuse services to same-sex couples and also that it would allow adoption agencies to refuse to place children with same-sex couples. The Indiana Family Institute made an end-of-year fundraising pitch that promoted the legislation, noting examples of small businesses who were facing discrimination complaints from same-sex couples. Schneider claimed, however, that the bill will not discriminate against anyone, but would simply “protect freedom and protect religious liberty.”
Indiana is a state where lawmakers have quibbled over LGBT issues frequently in recent years, thanks to a Republican effort to add a state Constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. That effort essentially failed due to a two-year delay, and a federal judge has since overturned the state’s statutory marriage ban, bringing marriage equality to the state. But now lawmakers want to make sure that even if same-sex couples can marry, they can still be discriminated against.
In addition to a spate of similar “license to discriminate” bills that almost all failed early last year — most notably Arizona’s after Gov. Jan Brewer (R) received national pressure to veto — a similar measure died in the Michigan legislature just last month. Like in Indiana, advocates of Michigan’s bill openly admitted that its intent was to allow for discrimination against LGBT people.