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Indiana Scrambles to Contain Growing Corporate, Public Outcry over Anti-LGBT “Religious Freedom” Law

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As the state of Indiana faces increasing pressure to repeal a new religious freedom law, Arkansas lawmakers have passed a similar bill that critics say could allow business owners to refuse service to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender customers in the name of religious freedom. Republican Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson has said he plans to sign the bill into law. On Tuesday, the CEO of Wal-Mart, Arkansas’s largest corporation, called for Hutchinson to veto the bill. Wal-Mart joins a growing number of corporations opposing the religious freedom bills. Nine chief executive officers, including the heads of Apple, Angie’s List and Eli Lilly, have spoken out in protest. A number of states and cities have also taken action, banning officials from traveling to Indiana. On Tuesday, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence said he stood by the law but urged lawmakers to work on reforming its language. We go to Indianapolis to speak with Indiana State Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane, who led his party’s opposition to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act before its passage.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: As the state of Indiana faces increasing pressure to repeal a new religious freedom law, Arkansas lawmakers have passed a similar bill that critics say could allow business owners to refuse service to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender customers in the name of religious freedom. Republican Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson has said he plans to sign the bill into law. On Tuesday, the CEO of Wal-Mart, Arkansas’s largest corporation, called for the governor to veto the bill. Wal-Mart joins a growing number of corporations opposing the religious freedom bills. Apple, Angie’s List, Eli Lilly, Gap, Marriott, NASCAR and the NCAA have asked Indiana state officials to take immediate action to ensure the act will not sanction or encourage discrimination. Unlike other states with similar laws, Indiana and Arkansas grant corporations the right to religious freedom.

AMY GOODMAN: A number of states and cities have also taken action. On Tuesday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo banned non-essential state travel to Indiana in support of LGBT members. New York City has done the same. The states of Connecticut and Washington had already banned official travel to Indiana, as have San Francisco, Seattle and Denver. At a news conference Tuesday, Indiana’s Republican Governor Mike Pence said he stood by the law but urged lawmakers to work on reforming the language.

GOV. MIKE PENCE: This legislation was designed to ensure the vitality of religious liberty in the Hoosier state. I believe Hoosiers are entitled to the same protections that have been in place in our federal courts for the last 20-plus years and in the law in 30 other states. But clearly, clearly, there has been misunderstanding and confusion and mischaracterization of this law. And I come before you today to say how we’re going to address that. I believe in my heart of hearts that no one should be harassed or mistreated because of who they are, who they love or what they believe. And I believe every Hoosier shares that conviction. But as I said, we’ve got a perception problem here, because some people have a different view. And we intend to correct that.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: On the campaign trail, potential Republican candidates, including former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Florida Senator Marco Rubio have defended Governor Pence and Indiana’s law. In a statement, Cruz said, quote, “Indiana is giving voice to millions of courageous conservatives across this country who are deeply concerned about the ongoing attacks upon our personal liberties.”

AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about the Indiana legislation, we go to Indianapolis to talk to Tim Lanane, Indiana Senate Democratic leader. He has led the Democratic opposition to Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

We welcome you to Democracy Now! Can you start out by giving us the legislative history? How did this bill get introduced? What was it in reaction to?

SEN. TIM LANANE: Well, that’s a very good question. And thank you very much for having me on the program today. You know, the timing of this, one has to take a look at that, because, you know, last year, the state of Indiana basically rejected an amendment, which had been proposed, really, for a long time, for a number of years, to amend its Constitution to ban gay marriage, to ban same-sex couples from marrying. And then, the opposition, of course, to that, the opposition—I should say, the proponents of such an amendment are now the same people who are the proponents for the RFRA law.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I fully support, and my caucus, the Democratic Senate Caucus, fully supports the idea of religious freedom and the right to practice your religion free from interference from the government. But, unfortunately, in response to, I feel, the rejection of the marriage amendment last year comes this bill, which is written much broader than any of the other RFRA laws, including the federal law, that was signed decades ago, and causes one to look at the language involved to see what could be the implications or the ramifications of this. And this is what has caused the concern, because there is a belief that the law is written in such a fashion that it could, unfortunately, allow for discrimination against the LGBT community.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Senator Lanane, what are some of the differences between—the supporters of this bill say it’s not much different from the federal law that was passed decades ago. What are some of those specific differences?

SEN. TIM LANANE: Several very important differences. One, of course, is just the definition of who can apply the law. And the definition of a person who is to be protected, as you might say, underneath the law, is so broad that it includes, basically, not only a real person, but any business entity under the sun—partnerships, limited liability corporations. All corporations, basically, would have the right to bring suit, if they desired, underneath the act. And that’s another substantial difference between the federal law, because the federal law is written in such a way that it’s not allowable for a private individual to bring a suit—the government could intervene and do such—but this law is written in such a fashion that we feel it would allow for lawsuits between private individuals, even. The definition of what is a religious practice is very broad. So, there are some very substantial differences between the Indiana RFRA law and all other laws.

Another major substantial difference is that many of these states, which have enacted their own less broad, if you will, more narrow RFRA laws, also, to make sure that no one is discriminated against, at the same time include within their civil rights acts protections specifically for sexual orientation or the LGBT community. We do not have that in the state of Indiana, and that’s a major gap that exists in the state of Indiana when it comes to protecting members of the LGBT community.

AMY GOODMAN: Speaking to ABC News Sunday, Indiana Governor Pence defended the law. He said both Presidents Clinton, Obama have supported versions of the law, as have 19 other states besides Indiana.

GOV. MIKE PENCE: The Religious Freedom Restoration Act was signed into federal law by President Bill Clinton more than 20 years ago, and it lays out a framework for ensuring that a very high level of scrutiny is given anytime government action impinges on the religious liberty of any American. After that, some 19 states followed that, adopted that statute. And after last year’s Hobby Lobby case, Indiana, properly, brought the same version that then state Senator Barack Obama voted for in Illinois before our Legislature. And I was proud to sign it into law last week.

AMY GOODMAN: Tim Lanane, I was wondering if you can respond to, well, why the signing was private. But the photograph of that signing, and the people who were there, GLAAD particularly focused on this, the group against defamation of gays and lesbians, talking about Micah Clark, who refers to a license plate benefiting an LGBT youth center to a plate promoting smoking; Curt Smith, standing with the governor, who equates homosexuality with bestiality and adultery; Eric Miller, while attempting to defeat federal hate crimes laws protecting LGBT people, falsely claimed pedophilia is a sexual orientation on par with homosexuality.

SEN. TIM LANANE: Well, yes. And of course that raises concern, because those are the three exact individuals who led groups that opposed, or, I should say, who were the proponents for amending our Constitution last year to ban same-sex marriage, and they’ve had a longstanding history of anti-gay legislation that they wanted to see adopted in the state of Indiana. And there they stand, immediately behind the governor in this picture.

Further, they have said, publicly, that they believe this RFRA bill will allow for businesses to discriminate, if you will, against gays, to refuse services to gays. They put right on their websites that this will now allow a florist or a baker to refuse to participate in a gay marriage, a reception, if you will, perhaps, following the marriage, even. So, this is a very dangerous type of discussion, and of course it leads to people questioning the motives or the reason for a RFRA bill that’s written so broadly.

So, you know, this is really, again, why we have said you need to do several things. We have said repeal and protect. That would be the best thing, send the boldest message. If they don’t want to do that, well, then you’ve got to at least repair that—the RFRA bill, but you must immediately move to put protection for the LGBT community in our Civil Rights Act.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Senator Lanane, the firestorm that has erupted in the past few days around this issue, especially with the eyes of the sports world being focused on Indiana this weekend with the Final Four college basketball championship in Indianapolis, what’s—could you comment on the national pressure now on Governor Pence to make a change here?

SEN. TIM LANANE: Well, there is national pressure, and so people are watching throughout the nation, throughout the world. What is Indiana going to do in response to this? And perhaps we didn’t see the extent of this reaction. We warned—the Senate Democrats warned on the floor of the Senate when we considered this bill that we thought there would be an outrage that would occur. We did not see the depth of it. But nonetheless, it’s here now, it’s real, and we have to react to it. It’s costing us money. We have conventions that are being canceled. We have all these companies threatening to withhold their business in the state or to draw back on their connections with our state.

And this, we do not need, because Indiana is a good state, and we have people. And what I’ve heard since then is a grassroots from the people, too, of Indiana, saying, “This is not what Indiana is about. Please, let’s make it clear that in Indiana we don’t want discrimination. And whatever we need to do, let’s do that, to make that the official policy of the state of Indiana.” And I’m confident we can do that. I’m going to be asking the governor and the Republican leaders, let’s take this bold action we need to, to put it officially in our policy in the state of Indiana: We shall not discriminate against any person.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to an Indiana protester who is advocating for recalling the legislators who supported the law.

PROTESTER: We can recall this governor. We can recall the 63 legislators that voted yes. We can recall the 40 senators. And we can take back our state from those people trying to take us back 70 years.

AMY GOODMAN: So the protests have been massive over the weekend and continue through the week. That’s people on the ground protesting. But it’s not just a progressive-conservative divide. As you’re pointing out, these large corporations—Angie’s List has said it will not continue a $40 million expansion—everyone from Marriott to the Gap. This is a kind of response—have you ever seen before? And I’m wondering how it’s playing out in the state Senate, in the General Assembly. What are the Republicans doing there? Have they ever seen their traditional supporters attack them like this?

SEN. TIM LANANE: I don’t think so. I don’t think they’ve ever seen the depth of this type of a reaction. So, they are, I think, in a little bit of a crisis mode, or maybe a lot of a crisis mode. They’re not exactly sure what to do. We’ve tried to, as the Democrats, to propose to them ways that we think we can send the message that will try to calm the storms, as one of the Republican leaders put it, that we need to do. But I think, right now, I’m afraid that they believe that a Band-Aid approach to this is going to be enough, and I am almost certain that’s not what those corporations are looking for. They’re looking for major steps to be taken to affirm the fact that in the state of Indiana, overwhelmingly, people are against discrimination. And we can do that. We just have to do it now, and it has to take bold action, which I’m hoping the Republican leaders will come and the legislators will come to a realization.

AMY GOODMAN: Have you introduced a repeal?

SEN. TIM LANANE: We’ve already had the language drafted to do that. We’ve also had the language drafted to add to our Indiana Civil Rights Act as a protected class sexual orientation. So, we’ve provided, I think, a pathway forward on this. And it’s not only just a pathway to alleviate the crisis here immediately, but it’s a pathway for the future of the state of Indiana. This is where Indiana needs to go. It’s where the people of Indiana want to go, I think, by and large. And so, now is the time. This is a historic moment for the state of Indiana. It’s time for us to move forward.

AMY GOODMAN: Senator Tim Lanane, thanks so much for being with us.

SEN. TIM LANANE: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Tim Lanane is Indiana’s Senate Democratic leader. He led the Democratic opposition to Indiana’s so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or RFRA, before its passage. He has continued to decry the controversial initiative, as Indiana business leaders, universities, civil rights groups, faith leaders, states and cities across the country have joined the protest.

This is Democracy Now!. We’ll be back in a minute with 150 years of The Nation magazine. Stay with us.

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