March 26, 2015 at 11:07 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Indiana governor signs religious freedom bill

Mike Pence, Indiana, Republican Party, gay news, Washington Blade

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence on March 26, 2015, signed a controversial religious freedom bill into law (Photo public domain)

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence on Thursday signed into law a controversial religious freedom bill that critics contend would allow businesses to deny service to same-sex couples.

“Today I signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act because I support the freedom of religion for every Hoosier of every faith,” said the Republican in a lengthy statement he released after signing Senate Bill 101 during a private ceremony.

Pence insisted the measure “is not about discrimination.”

“If I thought it legalized discrimination in any way in Indiana, I would have vetoed it,” he said. “In fact, it does not even apply to disputes between private parties unless government action is involved. For more than twenty years, the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act has never undermined our nation’s anti-discrimination laws, and it will not in Indiana.”

“Indiana is rightly celebrated for the hospitality, generosity, tolerance, and values of our people, and that will never change,” added the Republican governor. “Faith and religion are important values to millions of Hoosiers and with the passage of this legislation, we ensure that Indiana will continue to be a place where we respect freedom of religion and make certain that government action will always be subject to the highest level of scrutiny that respects the religious beliefs of every Hoosier of every faith.”

LGBT rights groups immediately blasted Pence for signing SB 101.

“This is a sad day for Indiana,” said Katie Blair, campaign manager for Freedom Indiana, a group that campaigned against the measure.

Jennifer Pizer, national director of Lambda Legal’s Law and Policy Project, in a statement said SB 101 “will facilitate discrimination in many areas of life for Indiana families.”

“The Indiana General Assembly and Governor have sent a dangerous and discriminatory message with this new law,” said Human Rights Campaign Legal Director Sarah Warbelow. “They’ve basically said, as long as your religion tells you to, it’s ok to discriminate against people despite what the law says. This new law hurts the reputation of Indiana and will have unacceptable implications for LGBT people and other minorities throughout the state.”

Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, who is a Republican, is among those who urged Pence not to sign SB 101.

Gen Con, which is the world’s largest gaming convention, earlier this week threatened to pull its annual gathering out of the Hoosier State if the governor were to sign the controversial measure. Cyd Zeigler, Jr., co-founder of, an LGBT sports website, on Wednesday urged the NCAA, the National Football League and other sporting groups not to hold their events in Indiana if SB 101 were to become law.

The men’s finals of the NCAA Tournament are scheduled to take place in Indianapolis between April 4-6.

“The NCAA national office and our members are deeply committed to providing an inclusive environment for all our events,” said NCAA President Mark Emmert in a statement after Pence signed SB 101. “We are especially concerned about how this legislation could affect our student-athletes and employees. We will work diligently to assure student-athletes competing in, and visitors attending, next week’s Men’s Final Four in Indianapolis are not impacted negatively by this bill. Moving forward, we intend to closely examine the implications of this bill and how it might affect future events as well as our workforce.”

Athlete Ally, an organization that promotes LGBT rights within sports, and Lambda Legal on Thursday announced a campaign that plans to highlight the anti-gay law during the aforementioned event.

“When states take measures like this one, they are opening the door for LGBT people to be treated differently,” said Brendon Ayanbadejo, a former linebacker with the Baltimore Ravens who is now a member of the Athlete Ally Board of Directors. “This law compromises the respect that every person deserves; it’s unfortunate we’re about to go into this Final Four with a law like this on the books in Indiana.”

Marc Benioff, chief executive officer of Salesforce, a San Francisco-based technology company, announced his corporation is canceling all required travel to Indiana because of Pence’s decision to sign SB 101 into law.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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