Indiana plans religious freedom bill that would allow anti‑gay discrimination

Indiana state capitol in Indianapolis.

Indiana state capitol in Indianapolis.

INDIANAPOLIS — A battle is shaping up in the Indiana state legislature over a religious freedom bill that opponents say would legalize discrimination against gays and others.

Indiana state capitol in Indianapolis.

Indiana state capitol in Indianapolis.

The Indianapolis Star reports the legislation has been widely expected ever since a federal judge struck down Indiana’s same-sex marriage ban in June.

That ruling, which the U.S. Supreme Court later let stand, caused angst among social conservatives who feared business owners who oppose gay marriage for religious reasons might be forced to provide services for same-sex weddings.

Supporters of the bill say it would protect people with strong religious beliefs, and allow small businesses — such as bakeries, caterers, florists, and wedding chapels — to refuse services to same-sex couples based on the owner’s religious beliefs.

It would also allow adoption agencies to refuse to place children with same-sex couples, according to Micah Clark, director of the American Family Association of Indiana.

Chris Paulsen, president of Indiana Equality Action, said the bill would essentially legalize discrimination.

The bill, expected to be introduced in the 2015 session of the Indiana General Assembly by State Sen. Scott Schneider (R-Indianapolis), is similar to a highly publicized measure passed earlier this year in the Arizona state legislature.

That bill, SB 1062, would have also allowed business owners to refuse service to people based on religious beliefs, but was ultimately vetoed by Gov. Jan Brewer after intense backlash from business and civil rights leaders.

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Similar religious freedom bills died or were deferred in more than a dozen state legislatures in 2014, but only Mississippi passed a bill that was signed by its governor.

The latest casualty is a bill that died in the Michigan legislature last week when the Senate adjourned without taking action on a measure approved in the House earlier this month.

LGBT rights advocates say the bills mark the latest effort by opponents of same-sex marriage to counter the growing public acceptance of marriage equality, and the momentum of federal court rulings that have led to same-sex marriage in more than 35 states, up from only 18 states at the beginning of 2014.

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