Tuesday, March 31, 2015

INDY STAR DEMANDS HOOSIER LAWMAKERS FIX THE 'MESS' THEY'VE MADE WITH ANTI-GAY LAW





The Indianapolis Star today boldly went where newspapers rarely go.

Under the headline "FIX THIS NOW," the newspaper published a full-front-page editorial calling on Gov. Mike Pence and the Indiana General Assembly to move immediately to undo the damage that has been done to the state's reputation and the already evident damage to the state's economy caused by Indiana's newly adopted Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The placement, the content and the clarity of the editorial can leave no doubt in anyone's mind where the newspaper stands. Here is a link to the well-written, easy to understand editorial: http://www.indystar.com/story/opinion/2015/03/30/editorial-gov-pence-fix-religious-freedom-law-now/70698802/.

The law -- which, despite statements to the contrary by Gov. Pence and the other key Republican lawmakers in the state who pushed for its passage -- encourages, enables and legalizes discrimination against gay people under the thin guise of protecting business owners' rights to refuse them services based on the religious beliefs of those business owners. Simply put, the law endorses bigotry and, to my way of thinking, is a total violation of the intent -- if not the specific wording -- of the federal government's Civil Rights Act of 1965 which bans all forms of discrimination.

Almost immediately after Pence signed the RFRA into law on March 26, the Hoosier state found itself the focal point of a storm of controversy and protests that have gone far beyond the outcries of just the LGBT community.

Businesses such as Walmart, Apple and Salesforce and, even more importantly, the homegrown, Indianapolis-based pharmaceuticals maker Eli Lilly lodged strong condemnations of the new law. Saleforce, a large and growing cloud computing company, even put some serious teeth in its protest by immediately cancelling all of it's already scheduled events in Indiana.

Other national organizations, such as AFSCME (American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees), condemned the law and began cancelling conventions and other events scheduled in the state -- particularly in Indianapolis which stands to suffer millions of dollars worth of economic damage. AFSCME immediately withdrew its national Women's Conference which was scheduled to take place in Indianapolis this year and said the event will be moved to another state where is members need not worry about being discriminated against. In a statement released shortly after Pence sign the law, Lee Saunders, the union's president, said "This un-American law allowing businesses to refuse service to gay and lesbian customers sets Indiana and our nation back decades in the struggle for civil rights. It is an embarrassment and cannot be tolerated."

A wide variety of entertainers cancelled show they'd scheduled in the Hoosier state and even the NCAA, which is based in Indianapolis, briefly considered moving the men's basketball Final Four which is to take place in the city this weekend. Although NCAA officials decided it would not really be feasible to try the move the Final Four location on such short notice, they did threaten to not only decline to schedule future events in the state, but also to move the national headquarter elsewhere.

Then, yesterday, Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, who had spoken out against the law numerous times before its passage and warned of the adverse impact it would have on the state's reputation and economy, came out with his strongest public condemnation of it. Here is a link to the coverage of Ballard's press conference by the NBC affiliate Indianapolis TV station WTHR, Channel 13: http://www.wthr.com/story/28652260/indianapolis-mayor-greg-ballard-denounces-religious-freedom-law.

This morning's Indianapolis Star front page is the perfect punctuation point for what Ballard had to say yesterday.

The editorial opens saying:

"We are at a critical moment in Indiana's history.


And much is at stake.

Our image. Our reputation as a state that embraces people of diverse backgrounds and makes them feel welcome. And our efforts over many years to retool our economy, to attract talented workers and thriving businesses, and to improve the quality of life for millions of Hoosiers.

All of this is at risk because of a new law, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, that no matter its original intent already has done enormous harm to our state and potentially our economic future.

The consequences will only get worse if our state leaders delay in fixing the deep mess created.
Half steps will not be enough. Half steps will not undo the damage."

The editorial goes on to demand in no uncertain terms that the governor and state lawmakers move to immediately shore up the damage by passing a state law "to prohibit discrimination in employment, housing, education and public accommodations on the basis of a person's sexual orientation or gender identity." The editorial says that such a human rights law, which would be similar to an Indianapolis city ordinance adopted a decade ago, could coexist with the RFRA, making an obviously contentious and drawn out attempt to repeal it unnecessary.

"Only bold action -- action that sends an unmistakable message to the world that our state will not tolerate discrimination against any of its citizens -- will be enough to reverse the damage," the editorial contends.

In closing, the editorial states:

"We urge Gov. Pence and lawmakers to stop clinging to arguments about whether RFRA really does what critics fear; to stop clinging to ideology or personal preferences; to focus instead on fixing this.

Governor, Indiana is in a state of crisis. It is worse than you seem to understand.

You must act with courage and wisdom. You must lead us forward now. You must ensure that all Hoosiers have strong protections against discrimination.

The laws can co-exist. And so can we."

As someone who grew up in Indiana and is giving serious thought to moving back there when my wife, Gail, joins me in retirement, I thank and commend The Indianapolis Star for it's strong and well-reasoned stand against discrimination in any form.

And, as the retired editor of daily newspapers, I fully understand the courage it took for the Star's editors and publisher to write and/or approve this strong stand and to defy convention by making it the paper's full front page under a straight forward, no-nonsense headline.

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