It is hard to overstate the complete and total retreat that has occurred in the state of Indiana.
A state law that its supporters originally celebrated on the grounds that it created a legal loophole for discriminating against gay Americans will now be revised to do the exact opposite. An effort to legalize discrimination under the guise of religious freedom has backfired spectacularly.
Earlier this morning, Republican leaders of both the state House and Senate announced legislative language amendment that states explicitly that Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act cannot be used to justify anti-gay discrimination of any kind, from employment to housing to business. The amendment also states point blank that Indiana's RFRA cannot be used as a legal defense in any civil or criminal court proceeding involving anti-gay discrimination. As a result, local ordinances that already protect gay citizens from discrimination cannot be evaded by claims of religious liberty.
Just as important, of course, the amendment also states explicitly that while the anti-discrimination provisions apply to individuals and businesses, they do not apply to churches and other religious non-profit institutions, including religious schools. Nor does it apply to any "rabbi, priest, preacher, pastor or designee of a church or other nonprofit religious organization." If religious leaders or religious institutions believe that such discrimination is required by their faith, they will remain free to honor that faith, as they should be.
As was noted at a press conference this morning, the amended law will represent the first time that the words "sexual orientation or gender identity" become part of Indiana law. Perhaps even more importantly, state GOP legislative leaders publicly committed themselves to seek additional legislation that would give gay citizens of Indiana the same civil rights protections that are already available on the basis of race, religion, age and disability.
"Indiana is open for business," as House Speaker Brian Bosma said. "We welcome everyone; we discriminate against no one."
Here in Georgia, a similar effort to use the cause of religious liberty to justify anti-gay discrimination has also apparently failed. In part because of events in Indiana, it looks as though SB 129 will not be brought to a vote on the floor of the House, and the boasts of those who melodramatically promised to produce a legislative cataclysm unless they got their way will prove to be all sound and fury, signifying nothing. They sought this fight as a demonstration of their political strength, and in conservative Georgia in a conservative General Assembly, it so far appears as if they lost that fight.
That says a lot.