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Senate approves controversial religious freedom bill

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Feb. 24, 2015) - The state Senate passed a controversial religious freedom bill Tuesday that could potentially allow Indiana businesses to refuse service to newly married same-sex couples. This bill passed on with Republican support, 40-10, and now heads to the House of Representatives.

“If you were to ask the question, what is the single most important pillar of our democracy, chances are the answer to that question is going to be freedom of religion,” said State Senator Scott Schneider (R – Indianapolis) during Tuesday’s debate.

“This is a license to discriminate,” said State Senator Karen Tallian (D – Portage).

Democrats claim the bill will allow major corporations, everyone from McDonald's to Home Depot, to discriminate.

“This bill is aimed at same-sex couples,” said Tallian. She said the bill is conservative backlash, fueled by last year’s legalization of same-sex marriage in Indiana.

But Tallian said the bill opens a can of worms; if a business can deny service to gay couples, she said, they can just as easily deny it to anyone else. During debate over the bill Monday, she held up anti-Jewish, anti-women, anti-Catholic, and anti-bi-racial signs, arguing, those groups could fall victim under this bill.

“What we’re doing here is to extend the ability for this to turn into a big discrimination bill,” she said.

“This bill acts as a shield and not a sword,” said Schneider.

Republicans argue the bill will protect Indiana business owners with strong religious beliefs. Schneider argues Tuesday, that it mirrors the federal law already in place.

“This bill does not legalize discrimination in any way, shape, manner, or form. It does not pick a winner or a loser and it does not place one faith, one denomination, one belief system over another,” he said.

Another controversial bill that passed out of the senate Tuesday would make abortions illegal in Indiana, that are based on the sex of the fetus, or if it is determined that the infant could have a disability. That bill passed 35 to 15.