When Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed a bill allowing businesses in the state to deny service to patrons on religious freedom grounds, it created a politically charged debate in the lead-up to one of the country’s largest sporting events.
This Final Four, held in Indianapolis, was a cauldron of protests both for and against the bill, which critics believed openeds the door to discriminate against the LGBT community. Adding to the drama is the NCAA’s home offices are also in Indianapolis, a fact not lost on NCAA President Mark Emmert, who hinted at relocating the offices in a statement criticizing the law. “We will work diligently to assure student-athletes competing in, and visitors attending, next week’s Men’s Final Four in Indianapolis are not impacted negatively by this bill,” Emmert’s statement read. “Moving forward, we intend to closely examine the implications of this bill and how it might affect future events as well as our workforce.”
To combat the controversy, the bill was quickly amended on April 2, adding language that explicitly states that businesses and individuals cannot refuse service based on sexual orientation or gender identity, among other distinctions. Furthermore, Indianapolis has had a longstanding human rights ordinance preventing this. The amendment received wide support, including from the hospitality community.
City officials had expressed concern the Big 10, which hosts several events annually in the city (including the Big 10 football championship game) would leave the city due to bill. Gen Con, a large gaming convention, has said it will leave the state after it’s current contract is up, which runs through 2020.
Politicians and activists have attacked the bill as essentially legalizing discrimination. Apple CEO Tim Cook wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post outlining his opposition of the bill, and Marc Benioff, SalesForce CEO, tweeting his company will no longer host programs in the state.
“These bills rationalize injustice by pretending to defend something many of us hold dear,” Cook wrote. “They go against the very principles our nation was founded on, and they have the potential to undo decades of progress toward greater equality.”
AFSCME, which represents nurses, corrections officers, child care workers and sanitation workers, stated plans to pull its event in October. However, the association’s conference went on as scheduled after the law was revised.