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Conservatives Defend Indiana's Controversial SB 101, But How Is It Different From Similar Laws In Other States?

By aaroncynic in News on Mar 31, 2015 2:20PM

Potential Republican presidential contenders are lining up to defend a controversial law signed by Indiana Governor Mike Pence that could allow discrimination against LGBTQ individuals under the guise of “religious freedom.” Since Pence signed the bill last Thursday, numerous conventions have threatened to pull out of the state, Chicago’s own Wilco cancelled two shows this week in Indianapolis and Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy signed an executive order barring state spending on travel to Indiana. NBC reports on Monday, Malloy said:

“We cannot sit idly by and do nothing while laws are enacted that will turn back the clock.. We won't allow any of our citizens in Connecticut to face discrimination in other states, at least without a fight."

Despite a major public backlash that crosses party lines (and the fact that this is the 21st century, among other things), GOP hopefuls rushed to defend Pence. Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who announced his presidential candidacy last week, said:

“Governor Pence is holding the line to protect religious liberty in the Hoosier State. Indiana is giving voice to millions of courageous conservatives across this country who are deeply concerned about the ongoing attacks upon our personal liberties. I’m proud to stand with Mike, and I urge Americans to do the same.”

Other potential candidates weighed in as well. According to the Huffington Post, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush said Gov Pence “did the right thing. “This law simply says the government has to have a level of burden to be able to establish there has been some kind of discrimination. We’re going to need this,” said Bush. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said he supports the law because he believes in “religious liberty as granted to us in our Constitution,” and joined others who have said the law isn’t discriminatory.

Governor Pence and other Indiana lawmakers and conservatives have attempted to dismiss criticism by pointing out similar laws that exist in other states, including Illinois. But in their rush to defend bigotry under the guise of “religious freedom,” they’ve glossed over important distinctions. Camilla Taylor, an attorney with Lambda Legal, a national LGBT civil rights group, explained to the Sun-Times yesterday:

“The main difference is that Illinois has a law that expressly prohibits discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation and gender identity, so any interpretation of RFRA would have to be interpreted in concert with this non-discrimination law. Indiana has no such non-discrimination law, and the proponents of this bill rejected any clarification or addition that would acknowledge the importance of prohibiting discrimination.”

Indiana Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma told Fox News that legislators were “looking at options” to clear things up, but a repeal wasn’t a “realistic goal.” “What we had hoped for with the bill was a message of inclusion, inclusion of all religious beliefs, said Bosma. "What instead has come out is a message of exclusion, and that was not the intent.”

But that intent is debatable, considering various language could’ve been included and the by looking at the controversial “Hobby Lobby law” that went to the Supreme Court last year. In that ruling, the Court said the Religious Freedom Restoration Act protects family owned corporations from being forced to offer contraception under the Affordable Health Care Act if it conflicts with its “religious freedom.” Politifact elaborates:

Under Indiana’s post-Hobby Lobby law, a "person" is extended to mean "a partnership, a limited liability company, a corporation, a company, a firm, a society, a joint-stock company, an unincorporated association" or another entity driven by religious belief that can sue and be sued.

Adam Talbot, a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign said “That means a corporation in Indiana has a cause of action to sue the government claiming religious personhood for the purposes of this law.” The HRC also criticized Gov. Pence, saying:

“Governor Pence’s calls for a ‘clarification’ of this destructive bill are phony unless the legislation guarantees explicit non-discrimination protections for LGBT Hoosiers and includes a clear civil rights carve-out within the RFRA. If Governor Pence is right and he really doesn’t want to discriminate, he needs to prove it by protecting the LGBT residents and visitors truly at risk in Indiana. Anything less is a shameful face-saving measure.”

Meanwhile, back in Illinois, Governor Bruce Rauner told Rich Miller at Capitol Fax that he’s been “troubled” by what he’s read about SB 101. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel also joined the fray and made an attempt at using the backlash as an opportunity to drum up business for Illinois. In a letter to several unnamed Indiana businesses, published by Crain’s, Emanuel said:

“Today, you cannot succeed in the global economy if you discriminate against your residents by treating them as second-class citizens...As Gov. Pence changes state law to take Indiana backwards, I urge you to look next door."