GREENFIELD — Local residents are encouraged by proposed changes to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that will prohibit discrimination against gays and lesbians, but some worry those changes might weaken religious freedom.
On Thursday, state lawmakers passed an amendment aimed at bolstering the state’s discrimination safeguards. The amendment, which passed the Senate 34-16 and the House 66-30, now awaits Gov. Mike Pence’s signature.
The change came in response to public outcry that the newly passed Religious Freedom Restoration Act could give businesses a means to deny services to the gay community.
The amendment states that the bill does not give business owners the right to deny services based on a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Additionally, the amendment states the bill doesn’t establish a defense in a discrimination lawsuit for refusal of services based on sexual preference.
Tameika Blackwell of Cumberland said the bill was unnecessary and lawmakers made changes only to save face.
She lamented what she considers the divisive nature of such a law.
“We need laws that bring our communities together,” she said.
Differing religious beliefs is part of what makes the United States and Indiana great places to live, she added.
Blackwell is disappointed it took considerable public backlash for lawmakers to consider amending the law to prohibit discrimination.
“It shouldn’t have taken all the noise,” Blackwell said.
When Pence signed the bill into law last week, the move sparked a furor the governor later said he never anticipated.
Businesses and organizations across the nation canceled plans to expand in or travel to the Hoosier state in retaliation against the law many feared would allow businesses to withhold services to gays and lesbians.
But supporters of the bill have repeatedly said the bill doesn’t give businesses a license to discriminate.
On Tuesday, Pence asked the General Assembly to move swiftly to make changes to the law to make it clear Indiana is a state of inclusion. He said perception of the bill is the issue, not the bill’s language.
Kay Dodds, a founder for local prayer group Changing Hearts, said she she worries how the amendment might impact a person’s religious freedom. She doesn’t support discrimination but believes religious freedom for businesses is important.
“No one in Indiana should face discrimination whether it is for their sexual orientation or for living their religious belief,” she said.
Business owners shouldn’t be forced to provide services that “hurt their hearts,” and there are ways to deny services without discriminating, she said.
“If you treat them dignified but can’t be part of their lifestyle, just treat them right,” Dodds said. “You don’t have to agree with someone to be nice to them.”
The debate surrounding the bill stretched across Indiana and the country. Cities and towns across the state passed resolutions and made statements saying they’d be open to all.
In Greenfield, candidates running in the primary election for mayor expressed those same sentiments.
Though the Greenfield City Council hasn’t passed any resolution regarding RFRA, Mayor Chuck Fewell said the city and its businesses won’t discriminate.
“Greenfield has always been welcoming and open to everyone and will continue to be,” Fewell said.
His challenger, Judy Swift, who sits on the council, agreed.
“I just think we need to be open to everyone,” she said. “We’ll welcome people of all walks of life.”
Thursday afternoon, state lawmakers voted in favor of an amendment strengthening Indiana’s anti-discrimination laws. Rep. Bob Cherry, R-Greenfield, Rep. Sean Eberhart, R-Shelbyville, and House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, supported the amendment.
Cherry represents Greenfield. Bosma and Eberhart represent a small part of western Hancock County.
Sen. Mike Crider, R-Greenfield, supported the amendment in the Senate.
representing Hancock County