Friday, April 3, 2015

Indiana RFRA Amended

After the public outcry over the passage of Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Indiana lawmakers have amended the statute to include a clause explicitly stating that the act may not be used to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. A similar clause was proposed when the original bill was being drafted, but was voted down at the time. This did not prove to be a winning move for the state.

From Visit Indy to Eli Lilly and Co. to hotels such as the JW Marriott, the game plan now is reassure, rebrand and — they so desperately hope — return to the old state of affairs when Indiana wasn't wreathed in national controversy. The bruising debate over the state's "religious freedom" law and the national notoriety it earned for Indiana will likely give way this weekend to a time of recovery for what was lost: the state's well-burnished image as a welcoming place.

Changes to the law were unveiled Thursday morning, approved before sunset by both legislative chambers and later signed by Gov. Mike Pence. The changes, which will prohibit the law from superseding local ordinances that ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, almost immediately quieted a public furor. Gay rights groups, many corporations and others feared the law will open the door to sexual and gender discrimination.

Reading commentary on the amended law from liberals and conservatives is like looking though windows into two different worlds. Conservatives argue that the "fix" goes too far, while liberals contend that it doesn't go far enough. Perhaps this is one of those cases where "compromise" means an agreement that neither side is happy with.

In a related story, the Arkansas legislature passed a bill similar to Indiana's this week, but governor Asa Hutchinson refused to sign it until it was amended to bring it in line with the federal RFRA. Hutchinson signed the amended version yesterday.

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