Amidst all the furor surrounding Indiana’s “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” and governor Mike Pence’s refusal to say whether the law will permit discrimination against gay and lesbian citizens, there is a bit of sanity.
State House of Representatives Speaker Brian Bosma told the GOP caucus that they were free to “vote their conscience” on the bill. So, five Republican members of the House did just that. The Indianapolis Star has a feature on the five Republicans who voted against the bill, and why they did so.
Greg Beumer, who didn’t speak to the Indy Star, tells the Winchester News-Gazette that he voted against the bill for “personal reasons.” Beumer admits that he might have voted differently had his vote been the difference in whether the bill passed or not. But, he says, “It was clear this bill was going to pass, which gave me the leeway to vote the way I did.”
Beumer says that he mailed a questionnaire to 26,000 residents of his district, looking for their opinions. He didn’t say how the majority of them wanted him to vote on the matter.
Cindy Kirchhofer says that the residents of her moderate Indianapolis area district made it very clear to her what they wanted, which was a “no” vote on the bill. She says that 75 percent of the calls, letters, and emails her office received urged her to vote no. “I don’t vote my conscience. I vote the will of the district,” Kirchhofer says. She adds that she could see no clear evidence that the law is needed.
Sean Eberhart says that his constituents were not insisting that he vote for the bill. “This wasn’t something my district said was important,” he says. He goes on to say that, since the vote, he has received many more messages supporting his vote than condemning it.
Tom Saunders doesn’t think the law is a good idea. He says, “I just thought it sent an unwise message. It’s kind of a divisive message.”
Saunders says that the response from his constituents has been mixed. “I’ve had several nice emails thanking me for my vote,” he says. “I’ve a had couple of people who have called in who are not happy. That’s part of the job.” Saunders has held his seat in the legislature for 20 years, and he says he thinks his constituents have come to appreciate that he doesn’t always vote the party line.
Ed Clere sees the bill as a signal about something other than religious freedom. Out of the five, he has been the most outspoken. He tells the Indy Star:
Do we want our sign to say ‘Welcome?’ Or do we want our sign to say ‘Closed for Business?’ Or ‘Certain people aren’t welcome?’ Or, as some have suggested, ‘We don’t accept fill-in-the-blank?’
Clere says that he understands that supporters of the law, such as governor Pence, say that the law is not about gay people or their rights, but he says that it’s impossible to separate the law from that subject. He is also concerned that no one seems to know exactly what the law can or can’t do.
Apparently, even Indiana Republicans who support the law are unsure of what it can or can’t do. Facing a national backlash, including several major companies that have expressed concern over the legislation, Republican leaders in the Indiana legislature are working to “clarify” the law. This controversy appears to be far from over.
Featured image via Indiana House Republican Caucus