BREAKING: Amendment to Indiana RFRA would include gender identity and sexual orientation

IndianaRepublican legislators in Indiana have proposed changes to the state’s controversial new Religious Freedom Restoration Act that would bar discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation, the Associated Press reports.

The amendment would also bar discrimination by private businesses based on race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or United States military service.

The changes come amidst increasing vocal opposition to the state’s new law, signed by Republican Gov. Mike Pence.

But not all groups are happy.

Eric Miller, CEO of Advance America, a group that backs the current bill, denounced the move in a statement.

“The Indiana General Assembly should not destroy in less than 36 hours the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that took over 65 days to go through the legislative process earlier this year,” Miller stated. “The proposed change to Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act is not a ‘fix’ but a hammer to destroy religious freedom for Hoosiers around the state – and it was all done behind closed doors!”

Miller added if the amendment passed, it would discriminate against “Christian bakers, florists and photographers [who] would no longer have the benefit of Indiana law to help protect them from being forced by the government to participate in a homosexual wedding.”

Others opposed it for different reasons.

“This bill reduces the threat but is far less than this situation requires. It recognizes there are problems, but does not fix it as LGBT Hoosiers and others urgently need. Now that there’s broad public understanding that gay and transgender people in much of Indiana are terribly vulnerable to arbitrary discrimination by businesses, refusal of housing, and being fired just for being who they are — and even Gov. Pence has agreed that that is wrong — that unacceptable situation requires a full solution,” said Jennifer C. Pizer, national director of Lambda Legal’s Law and Policy Project, in a statement.

Pizer was joined by the Human Rights Campaign and more than 70 CEOs of technology companies in calling for changing, or outright scrapping, the bill.

“Though this legislation is certainly a step back from the cliff, this fight is not over until every person in Indiana is fully equal under the law. At the federal level and in all 50 states, the time has come in this country for comprehensive legal non-discrimination protections for LGBT people that cannot be undermined,” HRC President Chad Griffin said in a statement.

“If anything can be learned from the battle for fairness and equality in Indiana, Arkansas, and other states, it’s that LGBT people deserve to be protected from unjust discrimination,” said Max Levchin, CEO of Affirm, and the organizer of the joint statement with other CEOs. “We are proud to stand on the side of liberty and justice and call on all legislatures to add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes in non-discrimination protections. This will ensure that no one faces discrimination while everyone preserves their right to live out their faith.”

—  James Russell

The Memories Pizza story: Doesn’t add up and isn’t the problem

MemoriesThe whole Memories Pizza “won’t cater a gay wedding story” just doesn’t add up.

First, as has been pointed out all over social media, no gay couple ever called out for pizza for their wedding. But that’s just pointing out the obvious.

We’re to believe a small-town Indiana pizza shop is suddenly the flashpoint for anti-Christian discrimination by the LGBT community and in one day they’re out of business?!

Sorry. Don’t believe it.

This became a story when a South Bend TV station told a reporter to travel about 30 minutes to the town of Walkerton and get reactions to the “religious freedom” bill that just passed. The owner of the pizza shop — or maybe she’s the owner’s daughter? — said she’s in favor of the law and then added that they wouldn’t cater a same-sex wedding.

A day later, the business was closed.

Sorry. There’s something wrong with this story.

First of all, media reporting the story should point out that the TV station had to travel half an hour from its studio to even find a business that supported the law. They must have looked locally and found nothing.

Memories Pizza hadn’t issued a press release or gone on social media to go out of its way to bash the LGBT community. The owner/owner’s daughter made an off-handed remark, while on camera, just repeating the nonsense she’d heard all over media before about all the bakers and photographers who have been “forced” to cater same-sex weddings.

Then the next day her business is closed.

So let’s assume as a result of her TV appearance, there was a sudden boycott of her business. In one day, she was forced to close. What would happen if it snowed in her Indiana town and she was forced to shut down for one day? Would she also be out of business?

More likely than not, her friends and neighbors who saw her on TV the day before stopped by just to say they saw her and while they were there they bought something. I’m sure business was just fine at Memories yesterday.

Maybe she closed because of phone threats?

Let me tell you something about phone threats. Doing an LGBT radio show, I’ve gotten death threats, bomb threats and just plain harassing calls. Lots of them. A few weeks ago, I was substituting on KNON’s Jewish Music Hour and I got an anti-semitic call. Wow. Hadn’t heard that kind of stupidity in awhile.

Here’s what you do when you get threatening phone calls. You take the call seriously and call the police.

I can assure you here in Dallas, threats like that are taken seriously. Very seriously. I’m sure in Walkerton, Ind., the police know their downtown businesses and take those kinds of threats personally as well as seriously.

If Memories Pizza really is out of business, the business was failing already. If she’s closed because she’s overwhelmed by the response, fine, take a vacation. Everyone’s entitled to one.

Here’s how I see this case. A small town business was put in front of city media, said something stupid and panicked. If anyone is calling and harassing her, stop it. Really. Stop it now.

Memories Pizza isn’t the problem. Gov. Mike Pence who wants to fix the law but is against LGBT protections is the problem.

—  David Taffet

Check out the front page of today’s Indianapolis Star

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The front page of today’s Indianapolis Star.

The Indianapolis Star, the daily newspaper of Indianapolis, Indiana, does not like the state’s controversial new Religious Freedom Restoration Act. So much that they devoted their front page, demanding the legislature amend the bill to bar discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The newspaper is just the latest to issue a big public proclamation against the law.

According to the paper, the city’s mayor and city council in a press conference yesterday (Monday, March 30) demanded the legislature either “repeal the divisive Religious Freedom Restoration Act or add explicit protections for sexual orientation and gender identity in state law.”

Mayor Greg Ballard, a Republican, also issued an executive order that requires anyone who receives money from the city must follow its human rights ordinance, which has had such protections in place for a decade.

“Our city thrives because we have welcomed and embraced diversity. And RFRA threatens what thousands of people have spent decades building,” Ballard said. ”Discrimination is wrong. And I hope that message is being heard loud and clear at our Statehouse.”

You can see the front page to the right and check out the paper’s blistering editorial here.

—  James Russell

Angie’s List ‘delays’ plans for expansion in Indianapolis, Seattle mayor bans city employees from traveling to Indiana

Angie's

The fallout over Indiana’s new “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” continues, with Angie’s List CEO Bill Oesterle announcing today (Saturday, March 28) that his company is canceling plans for a $40 million expansion in Indianapolis because of the law.

According to TheNewCivilRightsMovement.org, Angie’s List has been headquartered in Indianapolis since it was founded in 1995. The corporation, worth $315 million, had planned to move its headquarters across town, adding 1,000 new jobs over five years.

In a statement released Saturday, Oesterle said the company’s expansion is “on hold until we fully understand the implications [of the RFRA] on our employees, both current and future.” Oesterle also said that the company “is open to all and discriminates against none and we are hugely disappointed in what this bill represents.”

The statement said Angie’s List will “begin reviewing alternatives,” and the IndyStar reported that the company has “hinted that moving some parts of the company out of state is ‘on the table.’”

The Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act, signed into law Thursday, March 26, by Republican Gov. Mike Pence, prevents state and local governments from “substantially burdening” a person’s exercise of religion unless a “compelling governmental interest” can be proved.

Although Pence and other supporters insist — at least publicly — that the new law is not intended to discriminate against anyone, most opponents believe it was passed specifically in response to recent court rulings in favor of marriage equality to allow people to refuse to serve LGBT people. Others have pointed out the law could also be used to discriminate against people for a broad range of reasons, including race and religion.

It is modeled after the 22-year-old federal RFRA that the U.S. Supreme Court cited last year in a ruling allowing Hobby Lobby and other “closely held” corporations with religious objections to opt out of an Affordable Care Act requirement that they cover certain contraceptives for women.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray has barred Seattle city employees from using tax dollars to pay for business trips to Indiana, following in the steps of San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee. Also among those joining the growing negative response are Apple, Inc., the White House, Broadway’s Audra McDonald, $4 billion software firm Salesforce, $50 million annual gaming convention GenCon, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Fortune 500 member Cummins, Eskenazi Health, Eli Lilly and Co., Yelp, Hillary Clinton, George Takei, Pat McAfee, Jason Collins, Ashton Kutcher, Miley Cyrus, James Van Der Beek, Sophia Bush, Dustin Lance Black, Mara Wilson, Jack Antonoff, the mayor of Indianapolis, and the state of Indiana’s own tourism board.

 

—  Tammye Nash

LGBT groups react to big losses in House, Senate

From Staff and Wire Reports

Republicans won control of the U.S. House in Tuesday’s elections. As of 3 a.m. Wednesday, it appeared the GOP will hold at least 234 seats, to Democrats’ 180.

But Democrats retained a slim majority in the U.S. Senate — holding 51 seats, compared to the Republicans’ 47. At 3 a.m. Wednesday, Senate races in Washington State and Colorado were considered too close to call.

The LGBT community will be able to celebrate the addition of a fourth openly gay member to the House and the re-election of the three openly gay incumbents, but the loss of a Democratic majority in that chamber spells the end for hope that any of the dozen or so pro-gay measures pending in Congress have any chance of advancing in the next two years. The new Republican majority also increases the likelihood that measures hostile to LGBT civil rights issues can be publicized through hearings in committee that will, starting next January, be chaired by Republicans.

“Social justice movements always experience steps forward and steps back and this election turned out to be a mix of both,” Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese said in a statement reacting to the election results. “Even though we will face greater challenges in moving federal legislation forward, nothing will stop us from using every tool to advance LGBT equality at every level. Attempts to hold back the tide of the equality movement will surely put anti-LGBT leaders on the wrong side of history.”

While House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., made many promises to move LGBT legislation on her watch, the next likely speaker, Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, has a score of zero on gay-related matters in the past three sessions of Congress, according to the Human Rights Campaign. Two other political zeros will be at his side: Eric Cantor of Virginia as the likely minority whip, and Mike Pence of Indiana, as Republican Conference Chair.

“We will be prepared to fight attempts to turn back the clock on equality as well as highlight how far this new leadership is outside the mainstream of public opinion,” Solmonese said. “We need not look any further than their decade of House control that brought us attempts to pass a federal marriage amendment, strip courts of jurisdiction to hear LGBT rights claims, cut HIV/AIDS funding and vilify openly LGBT appointees.”

Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said: “We’ll cut to the chase: The shift in the balance of power will very likely slow advancement of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights legislation in Congress. Does this mean a blockade on LGBT rights? Not if we can help it. Fact is, our community has always had to fight — and fight hard — for equality. This is nothing new to us. But here’s another fact: There are Americans, from every part of the country, from every background, from every political leaning and of every faith, who support equality for LGBT people — and those numbers grow bigger every day.”

“No matter what the political breakdown is in Washington, the Task Force will continue to identify and work with all fair-minded members of Congress who are willing to support and defend equality for LGBT people,” Carey said. “Through our New Beginning Initiative, we will continue to push for the administration and its agencies to make tangible changes that benefit lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and our families — changes that can be done without Congress. We will continue working with local partners in communities across the country to secure equality. Bottom line: While political winds and players may shift, the fundamental needs of the people do not. No matter who is in office, people need jobs, protection from discrimination, a roof over their heads, a way to feed their families, a fair shake. No one should settle for less — we won’t.”

On the bright said, openly gay Reps. Barney Frank, D-Mass., Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., and Jared Polis, D-Colo., will return to their seats in the next Congressional session. And they will be joined by the openly gay mayor of Providence, R.I., who will be representing that state’s 1st Congressional district. Two other openly gay candidates for Congress on Tuesday did not succeed — Steve Pougnet in California and Ed Potosnak in New Jersey.

There were numerous other losses for the LGBT community to mourn in Tuesday’s results. U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Penn., who led the charge to gain passage of a measure to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell,” lost his seat to Republican challenger Michael Fitzpatrick. And five other strong LGBT supporters lost Tuesday night, including Reps. Phil Hare of Illinois, (Illinois’ 17th Congressional district), John Hall and Michael Arcuri of New York, John Salazar of Colorado and Carol Shea-Porter of New Hampshire. Hare earned a 100 percent score from HRC; Hall earned a 90, Arcuri an 85; and Salazar and Shea-Porter an 80.

Among other candidates with LGBT support who lost Tuesday night included Arizona Democratic Rep. Harry Mitchell, who voted for ENDA in 2007 and opposed an amendment to ban same-sex marriage in the federal constitution. Mitchell was defeated by Republican David Schweikert, who has said, “Traditional marriage is the basis for a functional society.” Texas Democratic Rep. Chet Edwards earned an HRC contribution even though he was not a strong supporter of equal rights for gays. But he was trounced by an even more conservative Republican opponent, Bill Flores. Flores says he believes “there is one definition of marriage and that is between one man and one woman” and has said he will “stand firm against any effort to change this or force Texas to recognize ‘gay marriages’ in other states.”

Twelve of the 17 Republican candidates endorsed by Log Cabin Republicans won their races Tuesday night, including Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, Judy Biggert of Illinois, Todd Platts and Charles Dent of Pennsylvania, Dave Reichert of Washington, Leonard Lance of New Jersey, and Nan Hayworth and Richard Hanna of New York. One painful loss for Log Cabin was Republican was incumbent Joseph Cao of Louisiana. The group just this year presented Cao with its “Spirit of Lincoln” award for his support on the hate crimes bill and co-sponsorship of a bill to repeal DADT.

Republican Sean Bielat, who earned the endorsement of the new gay conservative group, GOProud, lost in his bid to unseat longtime Democratic gay Congressman Barney Frank. Bielat is against repealing DADT and supports “traditional marriage.”

In the Senate, the LGBT losses include longtime civil rights supporter Russ Feingold, a Democrat from Wisconsin, who was beaten by Republican newcomer Ron Johnson. Feingold was one of only 14 senators who voted against the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in 1996. Johnson, like Feingold, supports repeal of DADT but only if the military approves it. Johnson opposes marriage equality for same-sex couples. Pro-gay Democrat Alex Giannoulias lost in his bid for the U.S. Senate seat from Illinois to Congressman Mark Kirk.

During his time in the House, Kirk earned relatively strong scores from HRC, but last June he voted against repeal of DADT. Following numerous reports by bloggers that Kirk is a closeted gay man, a local television reporter asked him why the bloggers “keep saying that.” Kirk, who has said publicly he is not gay, said he thinks it’s because he’s divorced.

Meanwhile, both Democrat Kendrick Meeks and Independent Charlie Crist failed to win a Senate seat in Florida. That, instead, will be held by Republican Mark Rubio, who opposes repeal of DADT.

On the brighter side, Senate Majority leader Harry Reid beat out Tea Party Republican Sharron Angle. Reid was supportive of LGBT civil rights; Angle is not. California Sen. Barbara Boxer, a longtime LGBT supportive Democrat and one of the 14 DOMA opponents, eld onto her seat, defeating less supportive Republican Carly Fiorina. And pro-gay Democrat Chris Coons, endorsed by the Human Rights Campaign, easily defeated Republican gadfly Christine O’Donnell. Coons has said he will “continue fighting for LGBT issues,” including marriage equality, repeal of DADT and the Defense of Marriage Act, and passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

It is still unclear who has won the Senate races in Colorado and Washington State. In Colorado, incumbent Democrat Michael Bennet is in a very tight race against Republican Ken Buck, who has implied that homosexuality is akin to alcoholism. And in Washington, incumbent pro-gay Democrat Patty Murray was clinging to a thin lead over Republican challenger Dino Rossi, who opposes marriage equality and domestic partnerships.

—  John Wright

Sessions is missing the Log Cabin dinner to discuss the importance of ‘traditional marriage’

Earlier today we wrote about how Dallas Republican Congressman Pete Sessions had backed out of a scheduled appearance tonight at the Log Cabin Republicans National Dinner. In cancelling his appearance, Sessions cited another commitment — specifically a meeting of the House GOP Conference.

Irony of ironies, it turns out the GOP Conference will be meeting to discuss a brand new election year agenda to be unveiled Thursday that — surprise! — will include social issues and specifically a statement affirming the party’s support for “traditional marriage.”

From Politico:

House Republicans had a spirited debate behind closed doors about the degree to which social issues should be included in the new agenda, and social conservatives have been pressing for the GOP to be more explicit in putting social issues in writing on this 2010 agenda.

Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (R-Ind.), winner of a 2012 presidential straw poll at the recent conservative Values Voters conference, led the campaign to ensure social issues would not be ignored. Some others believed that the plan should focus more narrowly on fiscal and security issues that unite a broader swath of the GOP.

The decision to at least affirm opposition to abortion and gay marriage appears to represent a compromise between the factions.

House Republicans will be able to review the new agenda this afternoon, after which they will discuss it at a conference meeting. Republican leaders will unveil it to the public Thursday morning.

Gee, we wonder which side of the “spirited debate” Sessions was on.

UPDATE: Via CBS News, below is a draft of the GOP’s new “Pledge To America”:

GOP Pledge to America

—  John Wright