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Indiana House passes controversial religious freedom bill

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on Feb. 27 in National Harbor, Md. Pence is expected to sign a controversial bill into law that would allow business owners to decline to provide services for same-sex couples. (Alex Brandon/AP)
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A controversial religious freedom bill that would protect business owners who want to decline to provide services for same-sex couples was passed by Indiana’s State House today, the latest in a larger battle over same-sex marriage and rights.

The bill reflects a national debate over the dividing line between religious liberty and anti-gay discrimination. The question of whether the religious rights of business owners also extend to their for-profit companies has been a flashpoint as part of a larger debate over same-sex marriage. For instance, some believe the bill could protect a wedding photographer who objects to shooting a same-sex wedding.

The Indiana House voted 63 to 31 to approve a hot-button bill that will likely become law, and Republican Gov. Mike Pence said he plans to sign the legislation when it lands on his desk. The state Senate’s version of the bill would prevent the government from “substantially burdening” a person’s exercise of religion unless the government can prove it has a compelling interest and is doing so in the least restrictive means.

Supporters say the measure supports religious freedom while opponents fear discrimination against LGBT people. The push towards this kind of legislation comes as same-sex marriage becomes legal across the country. In September, a federal court ruling struck down bans on same-sex marriage in Indiana and other states.

[Indiana may lose Disciples of Christ convention over bill allowing businesses to decline service to gay couples]

Jason Collins, an athlete who publicly came out as gay after the 2013 NBA season, will be in Indianapolis as a Yahoo Sports analyst covering the NCAA Final Four and publicly questioned the bill.

Gen Con, a popular game convention and the city’s largest convention in attendance and economic impact, says it will reconsider Indianapolis as its annual location due to the bill. Last year, its CEO said in a letter, the convention attracted 56,000 and brought $50 million to the city.

Indiana’s religious freedom bill is modeled on a 22-year-old federal law called the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act, which played a key role in the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision in 2014. The court ruled that closely held corporations with religious objections do not have to comply with health-care requirements that they cover contraceptives like Plan B.

Gov. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) signed a controversial religious freedom bill into law on March 26, 2015. The Post’s Sarah Pulliam Bailey explains what's in that law and why there's so much opposition to it. (Video: Pamela Kirkland/The Washington Post)

A growing list of cities are passing gay anti-discrimination ordinances, which has raised the ire of more conservative state houses. Several states have adopted laws related to religious freedom. Utah recently passed a bill aiming to protect people who are LGBT from employment and housing decisions based on their gender identity or sexual orientation, while still protecting religious institutions that oppose homosexuality. The bill did not deal with whether a business can deny services because of religious convictions.

In debating the measure Monday, lawmakers on both sides of the issue cited the Bible to defend their positions, the Indianapolis Star reports.

Republican Rep. Bruce Borders spoke about an anesthesiologist who declined to anesthetize a woman in preparation for an abortion. According to the Star, Borders said he believes the Bible’s command to “do all things as unto the Lord” means religious believers need to be protected not just in church but in their workplaces as well.

Democratic Rep. Ed DeLaney argued that Jesus served all people.

“My prophet had dinner with hookers,” he said, according to The Star. “Was he blessing them? I hope so.”

(This story has been updated.)

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