Why Indiana's 'religious freedom' law is sparking outrage

Campaigners warn the legislation will be used to target the gay community, as calls to boycott the state intensify


American politicians, celebrities and activists are calling on Republican politicians in Indiana to repeal a "religious freedom" law they argue is a threat to equality.

Campaigners say the bill will pave the way towards state-endorsed discrimination of the gay community, as well as religious minorities.

Indiana lawmakers have responded to criticism of the bill by promising to "clarify" the law, but campaigners argue it does not go far enough.

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What does the law involve?

Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) protects businesses from state laws that "substantially burden" their faith. The bill will mean that the state cannot force a business to deliver a service that goes against their beliefs. So in practice, the law could allow a Christian florist to deny flowers for gay couple's wedding.

The bill was signed into law by Governor Mike Pence who said it would help "protect churches, Christian businesses and individuals from those want to punish them because of their Biblical beliefs," the BBC reports. There are 19 other states in the US with similar legislation, but they provide minorities with protection from discrimination – a provision the law in Indiana does not make.

Who supports it?

Proponents of the bill include Micah Clark, head of the American Family Association of Indiana, who believes homosexuality is a treatable disorder, and Eric Miller, who once said that resistance of same-sex marriages and civil unions "will prove to be the greatest moral battle of this generation." Republican Curt Smith, who equates homosexuality with bestiality, also helped write the bill, according to gay rights group Glaad.

Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz has expressed his support for the bill, describing it as an effort to support "religious liberty," Business Insider reports. He said there was currently a "concerted assault on the right of every American to seek out and worship God according to the dictates of his or her conscience." Other key supporters include Cruz's likely Republican presidential rivals Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal and Rick Santorum.

Who is opposed?

Gay rights campaigners say the bill sets a dangerous precedent and is a serious threat to equality. The legislation has sparked nationwide calls for a ban on conducting business in the state. Connecticut, Seattle and San Francisco have all issued bans on state-funded trips to Indiana. "When new laws turn back the clocks on progress, we can't sit idly by. We are sending a message that discrimination won't be tolerated," Connecticut governor Dan Mallow told the BBC.

Democrats have been vocal in their criticism of the bill, with Hillary Clinton tweeting: "Sad this Indiana law can happen in America today. We shouldn't discriminate against people because of who they love."

Apple chief executive Tim Cook, who is openly gay, also condemned the move, likening it to "whites only" signs in the days of racial segregation, The Guardian reports. "We must never return to any semblance of that time," he said.

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