Gov. Peter Shumlin, D-Vermont, this week joined a growing outcry over a new Indiana law that was said to protect people’s religious freedoms, but which many fear could lead to discrimination of LGBT people.
"The worst chapter in American history is being repeated in Indiana," Shumlin said, likening the situation today in Indiana to a time in the South when black people did not have rights equal to those of whites.
The Indiana law, set to start July 1, does not specifically mention gays and lesbians. The Associated Press reported opponents say it was crafted to protect businesses and individuals who do not want to serve gays and lesbians, such as florists or caterers who might be hired for a same-sex wedding.
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Lawmakers in Indiana are now rushing to modify language to address concerns. Gov. Mike Pence, R-Indiana, urged lawmakers Tuesday to send a bill to his desk by the end of the week to clarify the intent of the law.
In Vermont, Shumlin has banned non-essential state-funded travel to Indiana. Asked how significant the ban is in terms of trips that would be canceled, Shumlin said only that the more significant situation is Indiana’s apparent stance on the issue of protections for LGBT people, which he called "outrageous."
Asked if he would lift his travel ban if Indiana were to amend its law in the coming days or weeks, Shumlin indicated he wants to see more than just tweaks. "I think they should repeal the law," he told New England Cable News. "I think that’s obviously the best way to deal with this type of legislation. Listen, this isn’t okay. Vermont has a long tradition of saying to all Vermonters, 'We’re all in this together. We’re all one family, and we don’t discriminate against you based on who you are.'"
Wednesday, a restaurant called Memories Pizza in Walkerton, Indiana drew a lot of attention after it told media outlets it would refuse to cater same-sex weddings because of the owner’s personal Christian beliefs, suggesting it should have that right to do so. The owner did say he would serve walk-in customers who are gay.
This week, AFSCME, a major municipal employees’ union, announced it would not hold its women’s convention in Indiana over disagreements with the new law. Gov. Shumlin wrote that union a letter, inviting it to hold its meeting in Vermont.
Tom Torti of the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce said he bets that letter was largely symbolic, because it would be difficult, he explained, to accommodate such a large meeting in Vermont. He said groups of around 400-500 people are a great fit for Vermont’s infrastructure, as are more intimate gatherings.
Torti told necn his group is very serious about marketing Vermont as a place that’s open to all people. "We are welcoming," Torti said. "We are diverse, in all sorts of ways. And we celebrate that here in Vermont. It's not something we hide; it's something we talk about here."
Shumlin predicted the Hoosier State will lose jobs if its current religious protections measure isn’t killed. He added he would be glad to welcome Indiana employers who’d like to relocate to Vermont.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, also addressed the issue Wednesday. He denounced state measures that could allow for discrimination against gay couples.
"It is important that the American people stand together and end bigotry once and for all," Sanders said during a visit to Austin, Texas, while on a four-state tour addressing economic issues.
The written comment that was provided to necn by the office of Sen. Sanders continued, "We have fought to end discrimination based on race, creed and color. Now is the time, once and for all, to end discrimination based on sexual orientation."