Indiana businesses fear backlash over gay rights bill’s failure

Businesses across Indiana are participating in campaigns to let LGBT customers know they're welcome, but it might not be enough to completely heal the black eye the state received over its nationally-criticized religious objections law.

Businesses across Indiana are participating in campaigns to let LGBT customers know they're welcome, but it might not be enough to completely heal the black eye the state received over its nationally-criticized religious objections law. Michael Conroy, AP

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana corporate leaders warned that the failure of the Republican-controlled Legislature to enact a law protecting gay, lesbian and bisexual people from discrimination could rebound on business, making it harder to recruit talented employees and sell the state as an attractive place to live.

Majority Republicans abandoned efforts to strengthen gay rights on Tuesday, saying a compromise proposal had satisfied neither gay rights advocates nor religious conservatives. The proposed legislation did not include transgender people.

“We took a beating from all sides in trying to do this,” Senate Republican leader David Long said. “This effort was unfortunately hampered by well-organized extreme messaging from groups representing both sides of this discussion — many of them from out of state. Neither of those sides were truly seeking a solution.”

Indiana faced a backlash last year after it passed a law allowing those who oppose gay rights for religious reasons to withhold services such as providing flowers or cakes for same-sex weddings. The law prompted an uproar that included calls to boycott the state. It was later revised, although the Legislature wanted to revisit the issue this year.

The backlash may have contributed to the loss of a dozen conventions costing Indiana some $60 million, the tourism group Visit Indy said in a report last month. The decision on Tuesday was a new blow to business efforts to burnish the state’s reputation, business leaders said.

“Indiana’s economic competitiveness and the Hoosier brand have potentially been compromised again,” said Indiana Competes, a coalition of several hundred state organizations and business including major manufacturer Cummins Inc., pharmaceuticals giant Eli Lilly and Co. and the NCAA governing body for college sports.

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