Equality for consumers in Indiana

The irony of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in the state of Indiana. (Tribune News Service)
The irony of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in the state of Indiana. (Tribune News Service)

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence faced extreme backlash and public outrage over the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

Signed into law on March 26, RFRA originally allowed businesses to use religious beliefs as a legitimate, legal reason to deny individuals business.

It also prevented individuals from suing businesses for any actions made based on religious beliefs, meaning businesses could deny services based on someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity with zero consequences.

Advocates for LGBTQ rights rejoiced as one week after its signing, a revised version of RFRA was approved stating that businesses could no longer legally deny business to any patron regardless of their race, gender, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity.

The new version also revoked the legal protection of businesses from being sued for discrimination against customers for religious reasons.

Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma said the amended RFRA ensures the law “cannot be used to discriminate against anyone.” While this statement was likely intended to comfort opponents of the original law, it highlights a major issue: why does it take isolated, dramatic occurrences to put civil rights issues under the national spotlight?

“There are certain flashpoints that take a story and splash it on the front pages and the leads of the network newscast,” Christopher Bury, DePaul’s senior journalist in residence, said. “It very often takes a story with a lot of explosive elements to make something part of the national conversation.”

In the case of RFRA, the law garnered national attention as it angered some very powerful, influential people.

A multitude of celebrities, including Miley Cyrus and Ashton Kutcher, voiced their outrage. Business giants Wal-Mart and Apple publicly announced their opposition of the law.The governors of New York, Connecticut and Washington even banned any state-funded travel to Indiana.

RFRA quickly became a liability to the state of Indiana with potential to inflict major damage on Indiana’s economy.

A multitude of tech industry leaders made a joint statement to Indiana warning of the economic damage discriminatory laws, such as RFRA could create. Signed by CEO’s of many companies including Twitter, Yelp and eBay, the statement makes it clear that powerful executives across the country will not condone discrimination.

“We believe it is critically important to speak out about proposed bills and existing laws that would put the rights of minorities at risk,” the statement said. “The transparent and open economy of the future depends on it, and the values of this great nation are at stake.”

It is disheartening that in a time where acceptance and appreciation of the LGBTQ community is seemingly on the rise, discriminatory legislation such as Indiana’s RFRA still manages to be signed into law.

That it takes countless protests from public figures and potential economic damage to prevent this discrimination is even more frustrating.

With any luck, Pence’s mistake will serve as a warning for other politicians that discrimination against LGBTQ people is simply bad for business.