Indiana law, called anti-gay by opponents, draws hundreds to protest Saturday
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Hundreds of people gathered outside of the Indiana Statehouse on Saturday, some carrying "no hate in our state" signs, to rally against a new law that opponents say could sanction discrimination against gay people.
The law's supporters, however, contend the discrimination claims are overblown and insist it will keep the government from compelling people to provide services they find objectionable on religious grounds.
Since Republican Gov. Mike Pence signed the bill into law Thursday, Indiana has been widely criticized by businesses and organizations around the country, as well as on social media with the hashtag (hash)boycottindiana. Local officials and business groups around the state hope to stem the fallout, though consumer review service Angie's List said Saturday that it is suspending a planned expansion in Indianapolis because of the new law.
The measure, which takes effect in July, prohibits state laws that "substantially burden" a person's ability to follow his or her religious beliefs. The definition of "person" includes religious institutions, businesses and associations. It will take effect in July.
Saturday's crowd, for which police didn't have an exact estimate, stretched across the south steps and lawn of the Statehouse building. At one point, they chanted "Pence must go," and many held signs like "I'm pretty sure God doesn't hate anyone" and "No hate in our state."
Zach Adamson, a Democrat on Indianapolis' City-County Council, said to cheers that the law has nothing to do with religious freedom but everything to do with discrimination.
"This isn't 1950 Alabama, it's 2015 Indiana," he told those in attendance, adding that the law has brought embarrassment on the state.
He and other speakers urged people to register to vote, and said only way to stop laws like this is to elect new members of the Indiana General Assembly.
Supporters of the law maintain that in courts haven't allowed discrimination to happen under similar laws covering the federal government and in 19 other states.
But some national gay-rights groups say lawmakers in Indiana and about a dozen other states that have proposed such bills this year are essentially granting a state-sanctioned waiver for discrimination as the nation's highest court prepares to mull the gay marriage question.
Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, a Republican who opposed the law, said he and other city officials would be talking to many businesses and convention planners to counter the uproar the law has caused. "I'm more concerned about making sure that everyone knows they can come in here and feel welcome," Ballard said.
The Indianapolis-based NCAA has expressed concerns about the law and has suggested it could move future events elsewhere; the men's Final Four will be held in the city next weekend.
Angie's List had sought an $18.5 million incentive package from Indianapolis' City-County Council to add 1,000 jobs over five years. But founder and CEO Bill Oseterle said in a statement Saturday that the expansion was on hold "until we fully understand the implications of the freedom restoration act on our employees."
Around the state, stickers touting "This business serves everyone" have been appearing in many businesses' windows, and groups such as the Indiana Chamber of Commerce have taken to social media with messages that the state is full of welcoming businesses. Democratic South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg touted on Twitter his city's civil rights ordinance's protections for gays and lesbians, while Republican Evansville Mayor Lloyd Winnecke wrote that the law "sends the wrong message about Indiana."
Indianapolis' tourism and convention business is estimated to have a $4.4 billion annual economic impact with some 75,000 jobs. Chris Gahl, a vice president with tourism agency Visit Indy, said: "We know that their ability to work is largely dependent on our ability to score convention business and draw in events and visitors."