Use of the hashtag #boycottindiana spread across Twitter, spurred on by activists such as “Star Trek” actor George Takei, who argue the measure opens the door to legalized discrimination against gay people.

Share story

INDIANAPOLIS — The heat over Indiana’s new religious-objections law spread Friday across social media and to the White House as many local officials and business groups around the state tried to jump in and stem the fallout.

Use of the hashtag #boycottindiana spread across Twitter, spurred on by activists such as “Star Trek” actor George Takei, who argue the measure opens the door to legalized discrimination against gay people. Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook also tweeted his objections, saying he was “deeply disappointed” in the Indiana law.

But Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana, a Republican who has not ruled out a 2016 presidential run, defended the law as an overdue protection when “many feel their religious liberty is under attack by government action.”

Supporters of the bill, which Pence signed Thursday, say discrimination claims are overblown. They maintain courts haven’t allowed that to happen under similar laws covering the federal government and in 19 other states.

Indiana’s ban on same-sex marriage was overturned by federal courts last year, giving new energy to the campaign for the religious-protection bill.

The law, which is to take effect in July, opens the door for individuals or companies to refuse actions that impose a “substantial burden” on their religious beliefs. If that refusal is challenged in court, a judge must balance the religious burden with the state’s “compelling interest” in preventing discrimination, according to the law.

Eric Miller, who lobbied for the bill as executive director of the group Advance America, said it could help Christian bakers, florists and photographers avoid punishment for “refusing to participate in a homosexual marriage,” protect Christian businesses that refuse “to allow a man to use the women’s restroom” and insulate churches that refuse to allow their premises to be used for same-sex weddings.

Advocates of equal rights for gays said the law could abet discrimination.

“The possible discriminatory effects are real,” said Sarah Warbelow, legal director of the Human Rights Campaign, a gay-rights group.

Some national gay-rights groups say lawmakers in Indiana and about a dozen other states proposed such bills this year as a way to essentially grant a state-sanctioned waiver for discrimination as the nation’s highest court prepares to mull the gay-marriage question.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest on Friday noted the negative reaction to the Indiana law from many businesses and organizations nationwide. “The signing of this bill doesn’t seem like it’s a step in the direction of equality and justice and liberty for all Americans,” he said.

The Arkansas Senate approved a similar proposal Friday despite opposition from home-state retail giant Wal-Mart. Another measure stalled Thursday in the Georgia Legislature after opponents cited the fallout over the Indiana law.

Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, a Republican who opposed the law, said he and other city officials would be talking to many businesses and convention planners to counter the uproar the law has caused.

Groups such as the Indiana Chamber of Commerce have taken to social media with messages that the state is full of welcoming businesses. South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, a Democrat, touted on Twitter his city’s civil-rights ordinance’s protections for gays and lesbians, while Evansville Mayor Lloyd Winnecke, a Republican, wrote that the law “sends the wrong message about Indiana.”

Last year, Mississippi enacted a religious-objection law just weeks after Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, vetoed a similar effort there amid criticism from major corporations. Mississippi hasn’t had any high-profile instances of the law being used by businesses to deny goods or services to gays.

Indiana University law professor Daniel Conkle, who testified in favor of the bill in Indiana legislative committees, said he was a supporter of gay rights and that the predictions of negative implications from the law were unjustified.

Conkle, who has written extensively on religious legal issues, said he didn’t know of any cases under the similar state laws or the federal statute, which dates to 1993, where a court had sided with a religious objector in a discrimination case.

Chris Gahl, a vice president of Visit Indy, said the tourism agency was pointing out to convention planners that cities such as Chicago, New Orleans and St. Louis are in states that already have such religious-objections laws.