In Just 3 Words, This Indiana Newspaper Sent a Big Message to the New Anti-Gay Laws


Readers of Indiana's largest newspaper will have no doubt about where it stands on the state's controversial new Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

In a blunt front page on Tuesday, the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning Indianapolis Star needed only three words:

The powerful headline led into an equally blistering editorial from the paper demanding that additional legislation be passed to expressly ensure that RFRA could not be used to discriminate against LGBT Indianans.

"Gov. Mike Pence and the General Assembly need to enact 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 read. "Importantly, passage of a state human rights law would send a clear message that Indiana will not tolerate discrimination. It's crucial for that message to be communicated widely."

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Calling it a "critical moment" with "much at stake," the editorial said that the law had already done "enormous harm" and that laws protecting LGBT citizens and RFRA could coexist.

In a particularly savvy move, the paper even launched a hashtag campaign, #WeAreIndiana, to help drive the message on social media. 

Not to be outdone, Pence penned his own op-ed, which ran in Tuesday's Wall Street Journal. In a defiant rebuttal, the governor said that the law had been "grossly misconstrued" and that far from a "license to discriminate," it merely mirrored a federal law signed by Bill Clinton in 1993 and 19 similar laws in other states around the country. 

A rising backlash. The Indianapolis Star smackdown was only the latest in a rising tide of outrage in Indiana over the new law. Gregory Ballard, the Republican mayor of Indianapolis, issued an executive order Monday expressly protecting LGBT citizens in the city, while on the same day the city council voted 24-4 on a resolution denouncing the law. 

Meanwhile, a letter from nine of the state's most influential business leaders, including the heads of pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly and Co. and health insurers Anthem was hand-delivered to Pence. The governor has also made a name for himself in recent days with his bumbling defense of RFRA on television.

While Pence told ABC's George Stephanopoulos that he was "proud to sign it into law last week," many of his colleagues are appearing to have second thoughts. The Washington Post reported that Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma, a Republican, promised Monday that the legislature would act to "clarify" the new law later this week and that it would not allow people to discriminate against LGBT citizens in Indiana. 

With pressure building in the law's own backyard, it seems increasingly clear that the question is not "if" but "when" RFRA will be repealed or amended. Frankly, it can't come soon enough.