Partial victories as anti-gay religious freedom laws curtailed

Indiana Governor Mike & Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson

Governors Mike Pence (Indiana) & Asa Hutchinson (Arkansas)

Religious freedom laws that could be used to discriminate against LGBT people in the US states of Indiana and Arkansas have been amended for the better, but gaps remain.

On Thursday, facing massive pressure from businesses and human rights groups, Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed legislation limiting the damage the state’s new Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) could cause.

The amendment will allow cities that have local LGBT non-discrimination protections to stop the RFRA from being used to discriminate against LGBT people in areas of employment, housing and public accommodations (including restaurants).

The Human Right Campaign (HRC) has pointed out, however, that the “fix” does not address other critical areas, including healthcare or education.

This means that a private pharmacist could still cite their personal religious beliefs as the reason for denying a legitimate prescription to an LGBT person or a parent could sue a teacher for intervening when their child bullies a child who’s perceived to be LGBT.

“The measure fails to explicitly ensure that the RFRA won’t be used to undermine the full scope of Indiana’s existing non-discrimination laws, and does not add LGBT non-discrimination protections to the state’s civil rights laws,” said HRC.

In Arkansas, the state legislature passed and Governor Asa Hutchinson signed legislation that improves that state’s own controversial religious freedom law.

Though an improvement, the legislation can still be used as a weapon to discriminate against LGBT people, people of colour, minority faiths, women and other Arkansans at risk, said HRC.

The organisation called on Hutchinson to issue an executive order protecting state employees from discrimination, an idea that he himself suggested earlier this week.

“The people of Arkansas spoke up in opposition to a discriminatory, mean-spirited bill, and the state’s leaders backed away from the cliff,” said Chad Griffin, HRC President.

“The fact remains that the only way to ensure LGBT Arkansans are treated equally under state law is to add explicit protections for them,” added Sarah Warbelow, HRC’s Legal Director.

On Thursday and Friday, more than one hundred technology industry leaders signed on to an unprecedented statement calling on legislators to add non-discrimination protections for LGBT people to civil rights laws.

These included executives from companies such as Airbnb, Cisco, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Netflix, Symantec, Twitter, Tumblr and YouTube.

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