On Thursday, March 26, Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed the Religious Freedom Act. Passed by the Republican-led state legislature, the law is presented as a way to allow individuals and businesses to cite their religious beliefs as a defense when sued by a private party. Although members of the Indiana Senate present the law as protection over people of faith, it allows for widespread discrimination to happen legally. It may not be explicitly stated in the law’s meticulously crafted language, but the bill dangerously infringes on human rights, allowing for the denial of service towards someone because of their sexual orientation. And should anyone attempt to sue the business, they will be face-to-face with the state’s homophobic discrimination.
Before the law was even passed, Indiana businesses could still discriminate against same-sex couples. The state has no law that prohibits this discrimination and does not offer legal protection to the individuals of the LGBTQ community. A bill co-authored by thirteen Republicans and supported by groups representing religious conservatives is bound to support the anti-gay bias already upheld by the state’s judiciary system. Legislators in Arkansas, a state that passed Senate Bill 202 in February, preventing the protection of the LGBTQ community’s civil rights, have already began to push a similarly discriminatory law to their state. But the law has also drawn extreme criticism from many parties.
In Indiana, while the law was being passed, protests began to flood the streets. Backlash from citizens and local businesses captured the national eye and several corporate voices have spoken out against the law, as well. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Yelp, Angie’s List, and Apple CEO Tim Cook have all publicly opposed the “anti-gay” law. The NBA and NCAA have also come forward with their concerns over the law’s discriminatory repercussions. Rapidly, the law is meeting scrutiny, as its elevation of a judicially backed anti-gay agenda is made clear.
What this law has brought to attention is that corporate America can and will respond to social issues. Many, including myself, have been surprised at the assertiveness of big companies on LGBTQ rights over the past two weeks. It’s unusual to see such a controversial social issue met with such avid response from corporate America, who is so often quiet in instances like this. The pro-gay stance a business can take reflects the shifting public attitude. These companies likely recognize that it pays to stand up for gay rights now.
I applaud the large, nationwide companies who have rejected the State of Indiana’s decision. While we can’t be certain the choice to speak out was motivated by keeping the company good in the public eye, rather than a real personal commitment to human rights, these actions are still effective. Companies are finding opportunities to make an impact and influence public discourse. They are supporting the citizens who fight for human rights to draw the attention of governors and congressmen who make discriminatory laws such as the Religious Freedom Act. I expect we will begin to notice this more as time goes on, and companies will exhibit a more progressive social agenda and match values with the changing public opinion of today, including a more tolerant and less discriminatory work force.