They didn't see the backlash coming.
On March 26, 2015, Gov. Mike Pence signed Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law.
On its face, it is intended to allow business owners to seek relief in court if they are forced to perform activities that violate their religious beliefs.
"Sec. 9. A person whose exercise of religion has been substantially burdened, or is likely to be substantially burdened, by a violation of this chapter may assert the violation or impending violation as a claim or defense in a judicial or administrative proceeding, regardless of whether the state or any other governmental entity is a party to the proceeding. If the relevant governmental entity is not a party to the proceeding, the governmental entity has an unconditional right to intervene in order to respond to the person's invocation of this chapter."
In reality, it is designed to give business owners the ability to refuse service to LGBTQ customers if they want.
The law's proponents claim that it's no big deal. That 19 other states have similar laws on the books and that even the federal government passed a law like it in the '90s.
And that's all true. Sort of.
The thing is, times change. And people's attitudes change. Support for marriage equality — and for LGBTQ equality in general — is at an all-time high.
So whereas 10-15 years ago, the law might have been met with a shrug, in 2015, it ignited a massive uproar.
Celebrities and well-known writers called for boycotts.
Other states and cities banned officially sanctioned travel to Indiana.
Indiana business owners opposed to the law set up Open4Serv to support LGBTQ-friendly companies in the state.
Indianapolis' Republican mayor came out fiercely against the law.
"Our city thrives because we have welcomed and embraced diversity. And RFRA threatens what thousands of people have spent decades building.
Discrimination is wrong. And I hope that message is being heard loud and clear at our Statehouse." — Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, Indianapolis Star
And in an extremely rare move, Indiana's biggest paper published an editorial on the front page, calling for the governor to amend the law to explicitly prevent discrimination against LGBTQ folks.
"We are at a critical moment in Indiana's history.
And much is at stake.
Our image. Our reputation as a state that embraces people of diverse backgrounds and makes them feel welcome. And our efforts over many years to retool our economy, to attract talented workers and thriving businesses, and to improve the quality of life for millions of Hoosiers.
All of this is at risk because of a new law, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, that no matter its original intent already has done enormous harm to our state and potentially our economic future.
The consequences will only get worse if our state leaders delay in fixing the deep mess created.
Half steps will not be enough. Half steps will not undo the damage.
Only bold action — action that sends an unmistakable message to the world that our state will not tolerate discrimination against any of its citizens — will be enough to reverse the damage." — Indianapolis Star editorial, March 31, 2015
And while some people didn't think the editorial went quite far enough...
(Who IS that idiot? Oh right. It was me).
...it was still a gutsy move.
Indeed, 10-15 years ago, this all probably would have blown over. It might have even met with a decent amount of support.
But this time is different.
And thanks to the efforts of LGBTQ folks and their allies in and out of state, Indiana's lawmakers are just starting to wake up to the fact that they screwed up.