Holdgruen: Indiana law retrogressive, harmful to constitutional rights

In this day and age, gay rights and same-sex marriage should be somewhat of a non-issue. Social, religious and political institutions upheld by those in opposition still hinder acceptance legislation in certain areas of the country—areas where legislation is probably needed the most. Indiana’s new Religious Freedom Restoration Act is yet another roadblock that pushes the rights of the LGBTQ+ community into political limbo.

Despite claims from its supporters, Indiana’s new law is not the same as the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act passed in 1993. While both acts state that the government may not burden a person’s exercise of religion “even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability,” the Indiana act goes further to actually define a “person” as a human, a corporation, a religious society or a similar organization.

In practice, the federal law protected a Native American man from being fired from his job after failing a drug test in 1990––the man had used peyote in a religious ritual. The new Indiana law with its specific definition of personhood can—in theory—protect a corporation from punishment for refusing to serve a gay person or gay couple, citing religious beliefs.

This is why the Indiana law is unconstitutional. It clearly leaves room for excused discrimination based on simply not liking the way a person lives. Indiana Gov. Mike Pence asserted that it will not be used to deny services to anyone, but this legislation obviously means to serve intolerant beliefs rather than the rights of equal citizens.

The law’s supporters do not deny this either. United States Sen. Marco Rubio, speaking of businesses serving gay couples, said, “The issue we’re talking about here is, should someone who provides a professional service be punished by the law because they refused to provide that professional service to a ceremony that they believe is in violation of their faith?”

Citizens should not have to compile a list of businesses to avoid in fear that they will be publicly discriminated against and refused service. United States Sen. and Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz contributed by saying that the law is “giving voice to millions of courageous conservatives.” There is nothing courageous about metaphorically nailing a sign to the door of your business saying, “We do not serve gay couples.” A business in Indiana can probably exercise this in reality without the concern of the state government.

The law is an unintelligent move that may harm Indiana itself. There has already been widespread public outcry—alternative rock band Wilco cancelled its show in Indianapolis in a Facebook post that called the law “thinly disguised discrimination.” Comedian couple Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally cancelled the Indiana performance of their comedy tour via a tweet ending with a resounding “#Usuck.”

The National Collegiate Athletic Association expressed public concern that the law may threaten student athletes who will attend the NCAA Final Four in Indianapolis. In addition, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo banned non-essential state-funded travel to Indiana, emphasizing that New York “has been, and will continue to be, a leader in ensuring that all LGBT persons enjoy full and equal civil rights.”

With such substantial criticism and backlash, it is difficult to understand why Indiana state legislators believe their law is constitutional, nondiscriminatory and should be kept in place. It is unfair that a corporation and its “beliefs” are treated with more respect by Indiana legislators than their normal, tax-paying citizens.