Cuomo, de Blasio ban official travel to Indiana following state’s adoption of religious freedom act

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo sent a message to Indiana Tuesday by banning non-essential government travel to the state following its adoption of a controversial religious freedom law.

The two leaders followed suit of elected officials of other states and cities, like Seattle, Connecticut and San Francisco, who say that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act discriminates against the LGBT community.

Critics argue that the law, which was signed Thursday, gives businesses and governments a loophole to legally deny services to anyone on the basis that it interferes with their religious beliefs.

“With this action, we stand by our LGBT family members, friends and colleagues to ensure that their rights are respected,” Cuomo said in a statement.

Cuomo’s ban applied to “publicly funded travel that is not essential to the enforcement of state law or public health and safety.” His office didn’t return messages to give more detailed information on the ban.

De Blasio said he would get more information on how much travel the city conducts to Indiana.

“I think the typical type of travel would be, for example, working with companies based there that we do business with, maybe professional conferences. You know, there are specific types of things you find in almost every state,” he told reporters Tuesday.

The New York State Republican Party, however, questioned Cuomo’s motives, charging that the ban is a stunt to bolster his national image. NYGOP Chair Ed Cox called on the governor to cancel his upcoming trip to Cuba where “gay marriage is illegal, political dissidents are imprisoned and tortured, and the Castro regime is on the U.S. State Sponsors of Terrorism list.”

City Councilman Danny Dromm, who is openly gay, applauded Cuomo and de Blasio’s decision, saying it was necessary for one of the most powerful cities in the world to make a bold statement for equality.

“In this day and age, people know better,” he said. “People are tired of using others using the excuse of religious tolerance for discrimination.”

Twenty other states have passed such laws, known as RFRAs, since the early 1990s but Indiana’s is the first enacted since gay marriage became legal in many states last year, and it has been seen by critics as a backlash against same-sex marriage. Arkansas passed its own version Tuesday.

Major companies including Wal-Mart Stores, Apple Angie’s List and Salesforce Marketing Cloud called on Indiana Gov. Mike Pence to clarify or repeal the law.

Pence, a Republican, told reporters the act had been widely mischaracterized and “smeared” but he called on the state’s Republican-controlled General Assembly to send a new law to his desk this week to fix it.

“I believe it would be appropriate to make it clear that this law does not give businesses the right to deny services to anyone,” he said.

–With Reuters and Matthew Chayes