Last month, Indiana governor Mike Pence signed into law the Religious Freedom Act, and it has been a topic of controversy ever since. This act protects businesses and individuals who refuse service to clients if they go against their personal religious beliefs. This act is very similar to a bill in Arizona that was vetoed last year, because of public outcry. Although the act protects any kind of service refusal as long as it goes against personal religious beliefs, public attention has mostly been focused on the discrimination against the LGBTQ community.
The public quickly focused on a pizzeria in Walkerton, Indiana called Memories Pizza where the owners, Kevin O’Connor and his daughter, Crystal O’Connor, refused to cater a same-sex wedding. According to the Huffington Post, Kevin O’Connor stated that they “don’t have a problem with gay people,” but that catering gay weddings goes against their beliefs. He adds, “If a gay couple came in and wanted us to provide pizzas for their wedding, we would have to say no.”
The owners were faced with negative feedback from the public, and eventually led them to shut down their establishment. They started receiving angry and poor Yelp reviews, and even received death threats. However, the angry and negative feedback was counterbalanced by the amount of support they received. A GoFundMe campaign was created to keep their business open, and in just days the campaign had garnered $800,000. Although the father and daughter had received pushback from the public, they had support for their actions as well.
This act faced severe backlash not only from the general public, but it drew attention to celebrities, politicians, and events as well.
George Takei, who played Hikaru Sulu from Star Trek, has stated that “If (SB101) goes into effect, Indiana will be marked as a state where certain people are not welcome, and so we will not visit,” on his Facebook page, where he is followed by more than 8,428,230 people.
Jay Inslee (D), governor of Washington, joined in on the protest of this act by banning state-paid travel to Indiana, according to The Seattle Times. Inslee stated “We in Washington stand for equality.”
GenCon, the largest, longest-running, best attended gaming convention in the world, wrote an official letter to Mike Pence in regards to his bill. GenCon threatened to move the convention out of Indiana if Pence signs the bill, because they state that their environment welcomes a diverse attendee base, that is made up of different cultures, sexual orientations, gender identities, beliefs, abilities, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Last year, the convention had an attendance of 56,000 people, and had an economic impact of more than $50 million. Governor Pence had already intended to sign the bill, and was therefore undeterred by GenCon’s letter.
On April 2, Governor Pence amended the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and announced that sexual orientation and gender identity will be protected in the new law, as reported by USA Today. Indiana has received heavy pushback from the state itself, and from the rest of the country to revise the law. In response to the backlash, Governor Pence stands by his decision and says that the criticism was due to the spread of media.