Cooler heads may prevail in Indiana returning the famous Hoosier hospitality to its former prominence after the recent Religious Freedom Restoration Act sparked national protest. Business, sports and civic leaders were against the divisive RFRA from the beginning fearing it would result in open discrimination of the state’s LGBTQ community and a substantial loss of revenue. They were largely ignored.
It seems their voices have finally been heard. A press conference was held today at the Statehouse, where Senate President Pro Tem David Long (R-Fort Wayne) and House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis) announced proposed fixes to the law. They said they were presenting the changes to their colleagues at 9:30 a.m. today. Also speaking were Allison Melangton, the head planner for the 2012 Super Bowl held in Indianapolis, Jim Morris, vice chairman of the Pacers, former Indy Mayor Bart Peterson and Salesforce Marketing Cloud CEO Scott McCorkle.
What is the fix? Sexual orientation and gender identity will be explicitly protected under the revised law. Former Mayor Peterson said this would be the first time these terms will appear in state law in the context of anti-discrimination. He went on to say that “The healing needs to begin right now.” Bosma added, “Hoosier hospitality had to be restored,” as he apologized to the community for the damage caused by the backlash.
Founding president of the Indianapolis Rainbow Chamber of Commerce described Indiana as a “loving state,” going on to say, “Much of our work has been done over many years to achieve progress in Indiana.” The group works for the interests of the LGBTQ community in Indy’s economic development.
Of course, not everyone is pleased by this news. Advance America, a group that lobbied for the original RFRA, said the fix would “destroy” the law. “Among the things that will happen, Christian bakers, florists and photographers would now be forced by the government to participate in a homosexual wedding or else they would be punished by the government,” according to the group’s blog.
In an earlier news conference, Gov. Mike Pence (R) said, “After much reflection and in consultation with leadership in the General Assembly, I’ve come to the conclusion that it would be helpful to move legislation this week that makes it clear that this law does not give businesses a right to deny services to anyone.” He said he wants it on his desk by the end of this week.
I’m cautiously optimistic. On one hand, this fix could solve the problem of rabid religious discrimination. On the other hand, it’s clear to me that these changes are coming, not from a sense that the government did something wrong and wants to correct it, but because it got caught. Pence didn’t expect the amount of backlash – and likely revenue loss – when he and his cronies penned their version of the RFRA.
In the wake of intense national response, including threats of pulling major events out of the state and halting business expansion, Pence had to take this action. He won’t go so far as to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation, however. As I said, he made a public relations nightmare with the RFRA and now he has to pray he can fix it before his state’s economy and reputation go belly up. He’s not really concerned with much else.
As for Advance America and their fears of Christian Hoosiers being forced to participate in gay weddings:
Don’t worry! You’re not on the shopping list or the guest list, for that matter. I will, however, send you a postcard from my honeymoon in Aruba.