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Good Things Are Happening In The Wake Of Indiana's 'Religious Freedom' Law

03/30/2015 06:55 pm ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016
Raymond Boyd via Getty Images

Apple CEO Tim Cook has called it "dangerous." Ashton Kutcher has tweeted his outrage. The Indiana Chamber of Commerce deemed it "entirely unnecessary." Even as gay rights supporters reel from the passage of an Indiana law that critics argue will allow businesses to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, the resulting outrage offers what might be considered a silver lining.

“I’ve honestly never seen anything like it in Indiana. It’s been just awesome,” Katie Blair, campaign manager for Freedom Indiana, told The Huffington Post on Monday. “To see folks actively speaking out and taking a stand, people you never thought would say something about it, it says a lot.”

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law last week. Supporters claim that it is designed to protect business owners from being forced to act against their strongly held religious beliefs. But many business leaders, inside the state and out, have rushed to declare their opposition to the law -- and their embrace of diversity -- in a seemingly unprecedented show of almost immediate public support for the LGBT community.

Cook, an especially high-profile corporate executive, wrote in a Washington Post op-ed, “Our message, to people around the country and around the world, is this: Apple is open. Open to everyone, regardless of where they come from, what they look like, how they worship or who they love. Regardless of what the law might allow in Indiana or Arkansas, we will never tolerate discrimination.”

Some corporate leaders have threatened to pull business out of Indiana. Last week, the CEO of Salesforce.com actually canceled the company’s upcoming events in the state, following employee and customer “outrage.” On Saturday, the CEO of Angie’s List, which is headquartered in the state, announced that it was putting on hold a planned $40 million expansion of its Indianapolis headquarters.

"Angie's List is open to all and discriminates against none and we are hugely disappointed in what this bill represents," chief executive Bill Oesterle said, according to Reuters.

“I have been impressed with the way the business community has stepped up to expose discrimination,” said Camilla Taylor, a lawyer with the LGBT advocacy group Lambda Legal.

Taylor said she sees the business community’s swift and forceful response as a sign of the changing times. “It used to be we needed to educate everyone about the fact that lesbian and gay people were their friends and neighbors, their colleagues or their employees at work," she said. But now, she said, the American public knows that “gay people exist and that they share the same dreams for their families as the rest of us do and deserve to be treated fairly.”

The opposition has not been limited to the business community. Celebrities like Kutcher, Miley Cyrus and James Van Der Beek, and athletes from Charles Barkley to Reggie Miller -- even the NCAA itself -- have all spoken unequivocally against the law. And the backlash among the political class is growing.

On Monday, Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy (D) issued an executive order barring state-funded travel to Indiana because of the new law. Two major cities, San Francisco and Seattle, have imposed similar bans.

Closer to home, Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard (R) on Monday announced his opposition to the legislation and called on the Indiana General Assembly to add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes under state law. "Our city thrives because we have welcomed and embraced diversity,” he said, according to the Indianapolis Star. This law “threatens what thousands have spent decades building.”

Freedom Indiana, Blair’s group, is now pushing for additional legislation to add LGBT protections to the state's anti-discrimination laws and to clarify that the new Religious Freedom Restoration Act does not shield discrimination that is otherwise prohibited under state or local laws. She hopes that the current uproar will help push the proposed Fairness for All Hoosiers Act through the legislature.

“We don’t want to look like a state that's unwelcoming,” Blair said. “It’s called Hoosier hospitality and that's what we pride ourselves on. We don’t have mountains or oceans, but we have our good hospitality that we go off of, and this doesn’t speak well for that.”

Over the weekend, Gov. Pence said that he was taken aback by the negative reactions, according to The New York Times, and that he would consider legislation to clarify the intent of the law.

Lambda Legal's Taylor scoffed at the idea that the governor would be surprised by the public response. After all, a similar proposed law in Arizona collapsed last year after public outcry. “We’ve seen this movie before,” she said.

HUFFPOST READERS: If you live in Indiana, we want to hear about how this law is affecting you. Email your story or any tips to openreporting@huffingtonpost.com. Include your name, the city you live in, and a phone number if you're willing to be contacted by a reporter.

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