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Less than eight months after Indiana was excoriated for passing a far-reaching religious freedom law — widely seen as a permit for business owners to turn away LGBT customers — business leaders in the state are trying to swing the pendulum the other direction.
Major corporations and business groups based in Indiana — including pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, Cummins Engine Company, the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, and a coalition of tech companies — are pushing for a broad civil-rights law to protect people from discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation, according to officials who spoke to BuzzFeed News.
They insist that such laws must protect LGBT people in housing, jobs, and public accommodations.
But the businesses may find themselves at odds with Republican Gov. Mike Pence, one of the religious freedom law’s prime backers. (Shortly after the law was passed and drew national backlash, Pence signed a so-called fix bill that said the law could not be used to discriminate against LGBT people.) He has since been floating a trial balloon for compromise legislation that would lack coverage in places of accommodation – thereby allowing LGBT discrimination by businesses such as in hotels and restaurants, according to BuzzFeed News interviews and local media reports.
The carve-out is called a “Utah compromise,” referring to a nondiscrimination law there that lacks coverage for public accommodations. But spokespeople for business groups and companies in Indiana that back a comprehensive law said they reject a compromise out of hand.
“We would not accept a bill that lacks coverage for public accommodation,” Eli Lilly spokesman Ed Sagebiel told BuzzFeed News.
The global drug maker, based in Indianapolis and with more than 11,000 employees in the state, may have particular influence on the governor. Eli Lilly’s political action committee made six contributions totaling $31,550 to elect Pence 2012, according to state election records. Since then, it has banked another $15,000 to reelect him next year — however, it hasn’t given a penny since Pence signed the religious freedom bill into law this spring.
Eli Lilly’s CEO and other business leaders recently met with Pence to speak broadly about the situation and other issues, Sagebiel said. They did not address the specifics of possible bill, he said, but said Eli Lilly’s position is unequivocal.
“We would not support anything that attempts to carve out exemptions to pubic accommodation beyond the existing religious exemptions in Indiana law for religious institutions and ordained clergy from the existing Indiana civil rights law,” Sagebiel said.
Nineteen states have some sort of law banning LGBT discrimination, while no federal law exists to protect people on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Several municipalities in Indiana have such a policy, but none exists statewide.
Pence is trying to secure to his reelection next year by quelling the religious-freedom blowup. His approval rating has sagged in recent polls, showing that most voters disapprove of his role in the religious freedom controversy.
He could burnish his moderate image by helping pass a nondiscrimination bill. However, striking a compromise could neutralize conservative hardliners who may try to challenge him in the primary election.
But many the business community believe trying to find a middle ground is simply bad for business.SHARE THIS STORY