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Sunday, March 29, 2015

Ind. Gov't. - "What the 'religious freedom' law really means for Indiana"

Supplementing the two earlier ILB posts this morning ("What is needed to fix SEA 101" and "Illinois law on religious objection balanced by discrimination ban"), Stephanie Wang of the Indianapolis Star has a good story today in the Indianapolis Star that concludes:

[W]ith Indiana not having a statewide nondiscrimination law that protects sexual orientation and gender identity, the RFRA issue has become tightly intertwined with LGBT issues.

That's what makes Indiana's RFRA distinct from the federal law and versions in 19 other states.

Consider Illinois, our neighboring state that also has a RFRA.

Illinois' RFRA was approved in 1998. But Illinois also passed a same-sex marriage law in 2013 that codifies equal status and protection for couples and their families.

Illinois' Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act at the same time preserved religious rights by explicitly saying religious officials would not be required to solemnize any marriages that went against their beliefs, nor would religious facilities be required to hold such marriage ceremonies.

"What we want," said Wilson, who suggested those religious exemptions to the law, "is people to be able to go forward in society, especially when there is a great social change like marriage, just to know how they're going to live together in peace."

"With a RFRA," she explained, "you have to litigate all the way through to figure out if you've won. People don't have clarity until after the fact where their rights begin and the other guy's rights end."

During RFRA discussions in Indiana, state Republican leaders have dismissed statewide class protection for sexual orientation or gender identity. In most cities, there are no local laws that require equal treatment of gay people. That means discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation has never been expressly prohibited in most of Indiana.

After exposing the gap in LGBT protections and the political unwillingness to close it, Indiana's RFRA debate begins for some to look like a pre-emptive move to block social currents. And therein lies the questions over intent.

Indiana is just one year removed from a battle to block marriage equality, and where the right for same-sex couples to marry was only won by a court ruling overturning a longstanding ban.

It is telling to opponents of the religious freedom act that the law was driven mostly by the same conservative Christians who lost their fights against marriage equality. It's also telling, opponents say, that one of the law's primary sponsors, Republican state Sen. Scott Schneider, has touted the notion — which will be an issue for the court to settle — that Indiana's RFRA could exempt Christian businesses from having to provide wedding services to gay couples.

To some, that sounds like legalized discrimination. To others, it's protecting religious rights.

If you're wondering why RFRA does not realistically revive fears of racial discrimination by private businesses, look no further than the U.S. Constitution, federal and state equal protection laws and lots of case precedent. But LGBT rights don't have such broad and explicit protections.

In the few Hoosier cities with nondiscrimination laws, legal experts predict protecting LGBT rights will stand as a compelling government interest.

But for the state as a whole, is it a compelling interest? Or, in the state of Indiana in 2015 and beyond, will protecting LGBT rights be seen as violating someone else's religious rights?

Posted by Marcia Oddi on March 29, 2015 11:04 AM
Posted to Indiana Government