I'm ashamed to call myself a Hoosier. Not since Indiana native and then Vice President of the United States of America Dan Quayle used fictional television character Murphy Brown as an example of the evils of single motherhood have I felt so ashamed of my Indiana roots.
Two weeks ago the Indiana Senate passed SB 101, a bill that would allow businesses to discriminate against gay people - and any other population that does not exhibit the same religious beliefs of a store owner.
The bill is named "Religious freedom restoration," and prohibits a governmental entity from substantially burdening a person or business' exercise in religion. This includes allowing a private business to say it will not serve a customer based on that customer's sexual orientation.
"We are extremely disappointed that Indiana's Senate voted to allow religious discrimination in many areas of life for Indiana's families, workers and others. We have seen this over and over - bills that say they are about protecting one thing when the real goal is to target and discriminate against LGBT people, with vast implications for everyone else," said Jennifer Pizer, national director of Lambda Legal's Law and Policy Project, in a statement.
"As written, this bill will upend the balance between religious freedom and freedom from imposition of others' religious beliefs. Lambda Legal urges the Indiana House to halt this bill before it causes damage and legal havoc between neighbors, employee and employer, and landlord and tenant. SB 101 extends religious exercise rights to for-profit companies of all sizes - no matter what goods they make or services they sell, they're treated much like churches. Freedom of religion is already protected by federal and state law, but this bill goes too far," she added.
According to The Indianapolis Star, State Sen. Karen Tallian (D-Portage) referred to the legislation as conservative backlash for last year's legalization of same-sex marriage. She then further warned Indiana State Senate members that passing it could open up a proverbial Pandora's box of discriminatory issues and consequences. Members of any minority community could fall victim to the bill.
I'm all for freedom of religion. I am thankful that I can worship at my church of choice without interference from the state or federal government.
I am also thankful that when I go shopping I don't have to make sure to only patronize stores whose owners share my same religious beliefs. As a Christian woman, I can shop at a store owned by a devout Muslim and not worry about being turned away because my hair isn't covered.
Exactly how would this law be implemented? The next time I visit my home state, will I need to prove that I'm a heterosexual to be served at certain stores? Will it be similar to Arizona's anti-illegal immigration law that allows police officers to stop anyone who looks like they may have entered the state illegally and ask for proof of legal residency or citizenship? I can only guess at what kinds of ridiculous stereotypes will be used by Indiana businesses that support this law. Will any man wearing pink be refused service at certain stores? Or any woman with a short hair cut wearing Birkenstocks?
I'm not sure if the Indiana legislators who support this bill are lobbying for religious freedom or supporting the state's litigators.
The Indiana that I remember was more tolerant. Although a school district in Kokomo, Indiana refused to educate a young Ryan White in the late 1980s because of his AIDS affliction, another Indiana school and community welcomed the boy with open arms.
I can only hope and pray that Indiana legislators remember that this country was founded on the principle that all people are created equal - not just the ones who share our same religious beliefs.