Indiana's anti-gay 'religious freedom' law cost Indianapolis $60 million in lost conventions, survey finds

We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Turns out freedom to discriminate is a bit pricey.

The Indianapolis Star reports a survey commissioned by the city of Indianapolis's nonprofit tourist board found a state law considered to be anti-gay has cost Indy about $60 million in lost business.

Indiana passed its "Religious Freedom Restoration Act" last March to widespread criticism that the law would permit business owners to deny service to gays and other groups, so long as they had a religious justification for their discrimination. A subsequent "fix" to the law would only apply to cities like Indianapolis that have passed anti-discrimination protections.

Indiana Governor Mike Pence, who signed the act into law, said that people were "misunderstanding" the RFRA, which he said was simply protecting religious freedom. But business leaders from Angie's List to Apple still came out to criticize and condemn it.


That condemnation has apparently gone beyond words to wallets, with Visit Indy saying 12 different conventions cited the RFRA as a reason why they would not hold their gatherings in Indianapolis since the law was passed.

"In some cases, it was the only reason. In some cases, it was one of a handful of reasons," Visit Indy Vice President Chris Gahl told the Star. "But all 12, it was proactively brought up as a blockade from booking Indianapolis."


Gahl also said there might be even more conventions that decided against Indianapolis that his group was unable to survey, and that the city was in the running for fewer major gatherings than it was this time last year.

In an e-mailed statement to The Associated Press, a spokesperson for Gov. Pence said Indiana was a welcoming state with a strong economy, but never directly addressed the survey's findings or the RFRA.


The survey comes days after The Journal Gazette reported an Indiana legislature committee shot down a draft bill that would have repealed the fix that kept the RFRA from overriding local civil rights laws and expanded it to cover other areas as well. The law wasn't killed out of any desire to protect groups from discrimination, mind you, but rather because it was "mischaracterized," according to Senate Judiciary Chair Sen. Brent Steele.

Thanks to this survey, the next time such a law comes up for debate, opponents can properly "characterize" it with an economic argument.