Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Mayor Libby Schaaf Ends City of Oakland Ban on Indiana Travel

By Sam Levin
Tue, Apr 7, 2015 at 2:11 PM

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Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf announced today that she has ended the official ban on city-funded travel to Indiana — exactly one week after she instituted the policy in protest of the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Schaaf announced that she was lifting the ban in a joint announcement with the mayors of San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle who all canceled similar city boycotts today as well. The move comes after Indiana adopted an amended version of the religious freedom act, which critics across the country have for weeks slammed as a clear tool to enable businesses to discriminate against LGBT people. 

The law, which inspired widespread protests of Indiana, states that businesses cannot "substantially burden a person's exercise of religion," raising fears that it would give businesses the legal recourse to deny services to LGBT people by citing religious beliefs. In response, the mayors of San Francisco, Oakland, and a number of other cities, declared that they would no longer fund official travel to Indiana while many high-profile corporations also announced a range of boycotts. In the wake of this firestorm, Indiana Republicans proposed and passed an amendment to the controversial law, stating that the act could not be used to deny services to LGBT people. While some lawmakers say that the intent was never to enable discrimination, conservative groups have criticized this amendment, saying it fails to adequately protect the religious freedom of citizens. 

Schaaf, like San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, said she would ban official travel to Indiana as long as the discriminatory law remained in place. The recently passed amendment was apparently enough of a fix to encourage the group of West Coast cities to collectively lift their bans. Still, some LGBT organizations and Democrats have argued that the change does not go far enough. Those critics have argued that the law should be repealed in its entirety and that Indiana needs a law explicitly prohibiting anti-LGBT discrimination statewide (not just narrowly in the case of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act). California and a number of other states have increasingly adopted anti-discrimination laws, though there are also more than a dozen states that have similar "religious freedom" laws on the books. And even despite the intense backlash against Indiana, other state legislatures have recently moved forward with similar religious freedom bills

The City of Berkeley pushed forward with a similar Indiana boycott measure last Thursday, but it's unclear if elected officials there also plan to cancel those efforts in response to the new amendment.  

Here's Schaaf's full statement:
We have a duty to speak out and act against discrimination wherever and whenever it occurs because the erosion of anyone’s civil rights is a threat to us all. While there is much more to be done nationally and at the state and local levels to provide equal protection under the law for all, I am encouraged by Indiana’s decision to clarify its law so that it cannot be used to deny members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities access to services. After review of this change, I am directing the Oakland City Administrator to resume the normal review of requests for City-funded travel to Indiana.
And the statements from the other three mayors: 
San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee’s statement:
“While not perfect, the changes made to Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act represent a step in the right direction. While I believe strongly that Indiana, like many states around the country, must still add more protections to prevent discrimination against its lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities, I have decided to lift San Francisco’s restrictions on publicly-funded City employee travel to the State of Indiana with the hope and expectation that progress on civil rights for all Americans will continue. I also applaud cities like Indianapolis, which have taken these steps at the local level, and Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, who has been a consistent champion for equality during this whole debate.”

Portland Mayor Charlie Hales’ statement:
“Indiana as a state should follow the leadership of the great city of Indianapolis, and of Mayor Greg Ballard. In Indianapolis, protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents are clearly delineated. Indianapolis understands that which so many other cities and states know: that protecting all residents, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, is sane, smart, practical and ethical.”

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray’s statement:
“After an unprecedented response from businesses, governments, faith organizations, non-profits, sports organizations and millions of people across America, Indiana’s legislature and governor amended their state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act to include LGBT people for the first time in that state’s history.

While the most egregious parts of the law were changed, LGBT people still face a tough reality in Indiana and in many other places throughout the country. Indiana needs a comprehensive civil rights law like Washington’s, which protects people from discrimination regardless of who they are or who they love.

I recognize that it will not be easy to pass anti-discrimination legislation in Indiana or other states where these protections do not currently exist. In the state of Washington, it took 29 years before we finally succeeded in passing it in 2006. The people in Indiana and around the country who continue to fight for equity under the law need coordinated support and resources to fulfill the promise of an end to discrimination. I want to thank Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard for being a leader in his state and calling for a civil rights law that includes sexual orientation and gender identity as a protected class in Indiana. Seattle stands in solidarity with everyone who fights for recognition and equal protections under the law. I realize LGBT people in Indiana face a government whose mission was clear – they wanted to legalize discrimination in Indiana – and to some degree they have.

Yet, rarely does wholesale change happen overnight. It is important that we celebrate these small victories as we advance toward our ultimate goal of full equity for all.”

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