In the United States, Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed a divisive state bill misleadingly named the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or Senate Enrolled Act 101 on Thursday behind closed doors with select religious leaders. Such a law, and the way it was signed privately, begs the question of who it actually benefits. The law's opponents believe that this state law is targeted at gay people and is a result of Indiana's law against marriage equality being struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court when it let stand rulings allowing gay marriage in Indiana in October 2014.
The Indianapolis Star reported there was a three-month long fight to get this bill passed in what they termed "the most divisive issue of the 2015 session of the Indiana General Assembly." The author of the bill, Indiana Republican (surprise) State Senator Scott Schneider, claimed he was offering a way to strengthen "religious freedom" in what he termed the state's "religious liberty framework."
The New York Times reported Friday that this Indiana state law could "make it easier for religious conservatives to refuse service to gays couples." Businesses waded into the fray immediately after the law was signed with SalesForce Inc. ending trips to Indiana by any of it's employees. CEO Marc Benioff said in a tweet Thursday, "[t]oday we are canceling all programs that require our customers/employees to travel to Indiana to face discrimination."
As ripples spread throughout the arts, entertainment and business communities, the move is also seen to impact amateur sports as well. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (N.C.A.A.) of "March Madness" basketball fame chimed in with N.C.A.A. president Mark Emmert saying, "[we] are especially concerned about how this legislation could affect our student-athletes and employees."
Lamda Legal, the famous organisation that campaigns for gay rights in the United States, slammed the law and Governor Pence's claim in his signing statement that the law would not "legalize discrimination" or apply to "private parties," writing in a statement:
"He's wrong, or disingenuous, on both points. If this new law does not seek to facilitate discrimination, why did legislators pressing for its passage say it's "needed" to allow businesses to turn away same-sex couples? And why did a majority of Indiana legislators then reject amendments offered to specify that these enhanced religious rights cannot be used to excuse discrimination?"
It's hard to see how this law can be constitutional. It's worth looking at some old language based on religious discrimination against American Indians and black people up until a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case was decided in 1967, Virginia v. Loving. In the original case, of a white woman and a black man getting married in the state, a county judge ruling against them, and then banning them from Caroline county for 25 years. The state of Virginia county judge wrote in his opinion before his decision was struck down by the Supreme Court:
"Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And, but for the interference with his arrangement, there would be no cause for such marriage. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix."
It's quite possible that this new discriminatory law will be used in a myriad of unintended ways and the intent of the law will obviously be to discriminate against gay people. It seems obvious that this law will run afoul of the U.S. Constitution and its promise of equal rights, and to not enact laws that respect religion in a way that discriminates against a class of people.