Lawmakers approve revisions to RFRA, pass to Pence

April 2, 2015

Indiana lawmakers have approved changes to a new religious objections law to address charges that it could allow discrimination against lesbians and gays.

The amendment to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act approved Thursday by both chambers prohibits service providers from using the law as a legal defense for refusing to provide services, goods, facilities or accommodations. It also bars discrimination based on factors that include race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or United States military service.

Supporters say the changes make it clear that the law cannot be used to discriminate. Some opponents say the bill doesn't go far enough, while others warn it could undermine religious liberties.

The bill now goes to Republican Gov. Mike Pence. He has not indicated whether he will sign it.

If Pence approves the language, it will mark the first time sexual orientation and gender identity are mentioned in state statute.

The measure exempts churches and affiliated schools, along with nonprofit religious organizations.

House Speaker Brian Bosma said the agreement sends a "very strong statement" that the state will not tolerate discrimination.

The law "cannot be used to discriminate against anyone," he said.

Business leaders, many of whom had opposed the law or canceled travel to the state because of it, called the amendment a good first step but said more work needs to be done. Gay-rights groups noted that Indiana still does not include the LGBT community as a protected class in its civil-rights law, but Bosma said lawmakers met with representatives of the gay community and said they believed the new language addressed many of their concerns.

Former Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson, now a senior vice president at drugmaker Eli Lilly, praised the agreement but noted that work needs to be done to repair the damage done to the state's image.

"The healing needs to begin right now," he said.

Democratic leaders said the proposed amendment didn't go far enough and repeated their calls to repeal the law.

"I want to hear somebody say we made a grave mistake, and we caused the state tremendous embarrassment that will take months, if not years, to repair," House Minority Leader Scott Pelath said. "I want to hear one of the proponents 'fess up, because the healing cannot begin until that happens. The solution is simple. Repeal this law."


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