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Equal-rights groups urge Indiana governor to veto harsh anti-gay law

INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana -- Lawmakers have passed SB 101, a "religious freedom" bill that is as onerous as anything passed in Russia, Uganda or Nigeria.

Human rights groups are urging Republican Gov. Mike Pence to veto the bill, but the conservative has said that he will "proudly" sign it into law.

SB 101 will allow anyone to ignore any law -- let's repeat that, ANY LAW -- that conflicts with their religious beliefs. It opens Pandora's box for people to ignore any law, not just those that allow discrimination against LGBT Hoosiers.

A broad coalition of groups in Indiana is against the bill including civil rights and faith leaders, small business owners and the Indiana Chamber of Commerce.

“Lawmakers in Indiana have chosen to ignore an unprecedented chorus of voices speaking out in opposition to this draconian bill. Governor Pence now has the opportunity to follow the lead of former Governor Jan Brewer (R-AZ) in similar circumstances and to veto this appalling law," said Rea Carey, National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund executive director.

"The truth is, this new law will undoubtedly damage Indiana’s reputation as a welcoming place. Instead, the state will now be viewed as completely out-of-step and a place where it isn’t good to live and do business. What these politicians are peddling as 'religious liberty' is not real religious liberty. This law is an out-right recipe for discrimination and persecution,” she said.

"We urge all Indianans to contact Governor Pence at 317-232-4567 to ask him to veto this unprecedented attack on religious liberty," Carey said.

HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow predicted the bill, if signed into law, will face multiple legal challenges.

“This ill-conceived legislation will more than likely bring a wave of lawsuits to Indiana,” Warbelow said. “Yet the Indiana General Assembly and the Governor are ignoring broad opposition to this bill, including from businesses who know that it will send a troubling message about the inclusiveness of Indiana and have unacceptable implications for their employees. All Hoosiers deserve to be treated fairly, equally, and should have to play by the same set of rules as everyone else.”

Heather Cronk, co-director of GetEQUAL, said she was appalled by the bill.

"As a seminary graduate, this bill is deeply offensive," Cronk said. "The fact that religion is being used as a smokescreen for deeply hateful and vile sentiments by right-wing extremists, and then cemented into law, is not just un-Christian – it's un-American."

As activist Scott Wooledge puts it: "I've engaged in the battles against these bill in Arkansas, Arizona, and Tennessee in 2011. My message to those pushing these regressive, reactionary "religious freedom" laws is we will follow you to whatever state you try this and we will fight you aggressively. And my message to our allies and friends is we will pressure to defend your LGBT friends' and workers' right to live their lives free of discrimination."

Scott McCorkle, CEO of the Salesforce Marketing Cloud of Indianapolis, has also said SB 101 threatens future growth in Indiana. "Our success is fundamentally based on our ability to attract and retain the best and most diverse pool of highly skilled employees …"

The Indiana Chamber of Commerce and local employers including Alcoa, Cummins, Eli Lilly & Co., and Salesforce have spoken out against the bill, warning that it is bad for business.

The Indiana bill is a part of an onslaught of anti-LGBT bills being introduced around the country targeting LGBT people. Similar legislation has been opposed in other states by major companies including Wal-Mart and Apple out of concern that they undermine existing civil rights law and deeply harm the business climate of states in which they are passed.

Many of these bills could critically undermine the enforcement of state non-discrimination protections, and passing them will do serious harm to the business climate of these states—exposing the state to a wave of lawsuits, putting jobs at risk, and making major corporations think twice about investing in states that previously had pro-business reputations.

If the overly vague bill in Indiana is signed into law, public businesses from pharmacists to funeral homes to clothing stores, and everything in between, could potentially undermine state and local laws that protect people of faith, LGBT people, divorcees, women and interracial couples, among others. No one should be refused service simply because of a professed religious objection to who they are.

Americans overwhelmingly believe that businesses should not be able to deny services to someone because they’re gay or lesbian. According to a 2013 poll by Third Way and the Human Rights Campaign, 69 percent of Americans don’t think a business owner should be allowed to refuse to provide products or services to an individual because that person is gay or lesbian, compared to an incredibly small 15% that do. And when asked about small business owners in particular, a full 68% of Americans don’t think they should be able to refuse service to gays or lesbians, regardless of their religious beliefs. This supermajority included 55% of Republicans, 75% of Independents, 67% of people without college degrees, and 68% of Christians.