Indiana governor wants changes to religious-objections law
INDIANAPOLIS— Indiana’s governor said Tuesday that he wants legislation on his desk by the end of the week to clarify that the state’s new religious-freedom law which has triggered a nationwide outcry does not allow discrimination against gays and lesbians.
Meanwhile in Arkansas, lawmakers defied criticism and followed Indiana’s lead to pass a similar law. It now goes to Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who has said he will sign it into law.
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence defended the Indiana measure as a vehicle to protect religious liberty but said he has been meeting with lawmakers “around the clock” to address concerns that it would allow businesses to deny services to gay customers.
The Indiana law prohibits any laws that “substantially burden” a person’s ability to follow his or her religious beliefs. The definition of “person” includes religious institutions, businesses and associations.
Although the legal language does not specifically mention gays and lesbians, critics say the law is designed to protect businesses and individuals who do not want to serve gays and lesbians, such as florists or caterers who might be hired for a same-sex wedding.
Businesses and organizations have voiced concern over Indiana’s law, and some states have barred government-funded travel to the state.
In Washington, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Indiana officials appeared to be in “damage-control mode” following an uproar over the law.
Pence said he does not believe “for a minute” that lawmakers intended “to create a license to discriminate.”
“It certainly wasn’t my intent,” said Pence, who signed the law last week.
But, he said, he “can appreciate that that’s become the perception, not just here in Indiana but all across the country. We need to confront that.”
Democratic legislative leaders said the proposed clarifications by Pence and Republican lawmakers would not be enough.
“To say anything less than a repeal is going to fix it is incorrect,” House Minority Leader Scott Pelath said.
Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma agreed with the governor’s call for swift action.
“It’s important to take action as quickly as possible. We want to do it this week,” he said.
Also Tuesday, the Indianapolis Star urged state lawmakers in a front-page editorial to respond to widespread criticism of the law by protecting the rights of gays and lesbians.
The Star’s editorial, headlined “FIX THIS NOW,” covered the newspaper’s entire front page.
If enacted, the Arkansas proposal would prohibit state and local governments from infringing on a person’s religious beliefs without a “compelling” reason. But unlike in Indiana, Arkansas lawmakers said they will not modify their measure.
Over the past two days, hundreds of protesters filled Arkansas’ Capitol to oppose the measure, holding signs that read “Discrimination is not a Christian Value” and “Discrimination is a Disease,” and chanting “Shame on You” at Ballinger after the measure was endorsed by a House committee.
Similar proposals have been introduced in more than a dozen states.