We are at a critical moment in Indiana’s history.
And much is at stake.
Our image. Our reputation as a state that embraces people of diverse backgrounds and makes them feel welcome. And our efforts over many years to retool our economy, to attract talented workers and thriving businesses, and to improve the quality of life for millions of Hoosiers.
All of this is at risk because of a new law, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, that no matter its original intent already has done enormous harm to our state and potentially our economic future.
The consequences will only get worse if our state leaders delay in fixing the deep mess created.
Half steps will not be enough. Half steps will not undo the damage.
Only bold action — action that sends an unmistakable message to the world that our state will not tolerate discrimination against any of its citizens — will be enough to reverse the damage.
Gov. Mike Pence and the General Assembly need to enact a state law to prohibit discrimination in employment, housing, education and public accommodations on the basis of a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
Those protections and RFRA can co-exist. They do elsewhere.
Laws protecting sexual orientation and gender identity are not foreign to Indiana.
Indianapolis, for example, has had those legal protections in place for nearly a decade. Indy’s law applies to businesses with more than six employees, and exempts religious organizations and nonprofit groups.
The city’s human rights ordinance provides strong legal protection — and peace of mind —for LGBT citizens; yet, it has not placed an undue burden on businesses.
Importantly, passage of a state human rights law would send a clear message that Indiana will not tolerate discrimination. It’s crucial for that message to be communicated widely.
On a practical level, by basing the state law on a 10-year-old ordinance, the General Assembly could move quickly to adopt the measure without fear of unintended consequences. If lawmakers can’t act in the next month, the governor should call a special session immediately after the regular session ends in April to take up human rights legislation.
Why not simply repeal RFRA? First, it appears to be politically unacceptable for the governor and many Republican lawmakers.
Second, there are Hoosiers who support RFRA out of a genuine desire to protect religious freedom. To safeguard that essential freedom, 19 states and the federal government have adopted RFRA laws, largely without controversy. But states like Illinois not only protect religious freedom through RFRA but also provide gay and lesbian residents with protected legal status.
Third, repeal might get rid of the heat but it would not do what is most important — to move the state forward.
We urge Gov. Pence and lawmakers to stop clinging to arguments about whether RFRA really does what critics fear; to stop clinging to ideology or personal preferences; to focus instead on fixing this.
Governor, Indiana is in a state of crisis. It is worse than you seem to understand.
You must act with courage and wisdom. You must lead us forward now. You must ensure that all Hoosiers have strong protections against discrimination.
The laws can co-exist. And so can we.
#WeAreIndiana: Join the hashtag, the social movement. We encourage Hoosiers of all types — business leaders and owners, thought leaders, organizations, everyday people — to spread the message of who we are and what we want the world to know: Indiana embraces everyone and we do not discriminate.