INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana Republican leaders announced Thursday morning that explicit language will be added to the state’s controversial religious liberties bill clarifying that business owners cannot deny services to gay and lesbian patrons.
The proposal grants new protections to LGBT employees, tenants and customers, lawmakers said at a news conference in the Indiana Statehouse. The fix, however, does not apply to churches or schools.
The fix features what lawmakers called “anti-discrimination safeguards” — adding language to clarify that no “provider” — or business, other than a church or church-affiliated school — may deny service to anyone on basis of sexual orientation, race, religion or disability. Landlords may not discriminate against, for example, gay tenants; employers may not fire employees on the basis of their sexual orientation. The RFRA also does not negate any rights available under the state constitution.
The new language, which will be considered by conference committee later Thursday, and comes just two days after Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) vowed to alter a religious liberties bill that has drawn widespread criticism. The revised language was signed into law by Pence early Thursday evening.
“Indiana does not tolerate discrimination against any class of Hoosier,” said Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma (R), who acknowledged that the original wording of the law — which many conservatives have insisted was intended to protect religious liberty — was widely interpreted as a message of exclusion. “The perception had to be addressed. Hoosier hospitality had to be restored.”
“We want to “let every Hoosier know that we value you: gay, straight, black, white, religious, non-religious,” he said, later adding: “We are sorry that misinterpretation hurt so many people.”
Still, Bosma and others insisted that the intent of the law was never to open the door to anti-gay discrimination. Asked why language specifically barring discrimination based on sexual orientation was not originally included, Bosma responded:
“Honestly, the language wasn’t needed to clarify the statute legally. It was needed to clarify the perception of it.”
Still, lawmakers acknowledge that the ongoing controversy surrounding the bill had been bad for the perception of Indiana, as businesses leaders and activists groups nationally decried the bill as-worded and demanded it be clarified.
“Public policy matters. And words matters. For the last four days or so, dozens of people have struggled together to find the right words to allow us to move past this crisis,” said Bart Peterson, the former mayor of Indianapolis. “The healing needs to begin right now. For the first time ever, the words “sexual orientation” or “gender identity” appear in an Indiana statute, or they will … in the context of anti-discrimination,”
The original bill was heavily criticized by business leaders, such as Tim Cook, chief executive of Apple, as well as the NCAA, the powerful collegiate sports organization that is headquartered in Indianapolis and is having the men’s basketball Final Four there this weekend. Mark Emmert, president of the NCAA, said Monday that if the law was not changed, the organization could reconsider whether to host future events in the state.
In a statement issued soon after the new language was announced by lawmakers, Emmert praised the additional language and called for it to be quickly codified into law.
“We are very pleased the Indiana legislature is taking action to amend Senate Bill 101 so that it is clear individuals cannot be discriminated against,” Emmert said. “NCAA core values call for an environment that is inclusive and non-discriminatory for our student-athletes, membership, fans, staff and their families. We look forward to the amended bill being passed quickly and signed into law expeditiously by the governor.”
Pence had urged lawmakers to pass legislation making it clear “that this law does not give businesses the right to deny services to anyone.”
“We need to focus specifically on this perception that this creates some license to discriminate,” he said at a news conference in Indianapolis on Tuesday.