By Michael Muskal, Los Angeles Times (TNS)
Facing growing unhappiness within the state, Indiana Governor Mike Pence on Tuesday called for a legislative fix this week to clarify that the state’s new religious law does not permit discrimination against gays and lesbians.
At a televised news conference, Pence repeated the arguments he has been making for days: The Religious Freedom Restoration Act was not designed to be discriminatory, but a clarification would be a positive step. He said he wanted the state Legislature to send him a fix this week.
“After much reflection, I have come to the conclusion that it would be helpful to move legislation this week that makes it clear that this law does not give businesses the right to deny services to anyone,” Pence said. Details on the bill were still pending.
Pence again criticized the media for mischaracterizing the religion bill, which he insisted was about guaranteeing freedom of religion.
“I was taken aback,” by the reaction including threats of boycotts and complaints by top business and sports executives, Pence said.
Pence this week launched a drive to minimize the negative fallout from the state law that critics charge will allow discrimination against gays and lesbians by those acting out of religious belief.
In a television appearance on “Fox and Friends,” the conservative Republican governor said the state will clarify the controversial religious freedom law, but did not offer any specifics.
“I stand by this law,” Pence insisted in the interview that followed the publication of an editorial he wrote for the conservative-leaning Wall Street Journal.
“I abhor discrimination. I believe in the Golden Rule that you should ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ If I saw a restaurant owner refuse to serve a gay couple, I wouldn’t eat there anymore,” Pence wrote in the piece.
State leaders have said they will look at the Indiana law to see if it needs clarification.
“If we have to make adjustments to this law to make it clear…this law was never intended to create the impression that businesses can turn away customers on the basis of sexual orientation, we are going to fix that,” Pence said on television.
The law’s fallout includes a social media campaign to boycott the state and complaints from top businesses, especially in the tech sector. Even the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the agency that runs college sports, including basketball, has said it will look at the impact of the law on future sports events.
The state’s biggest newspaper, the Indianapolis Star urged lawmakers in a dramatic front-page editorial to respond.
The Star’s editorial, headlined “FIX THIS NOW,” covered the newspaper’s entire front page. The newspaper said the uproar sparked by the law has “done enormous harm” to the state and potentially to its economic future.
It called for a law that would prohibit discrimination on the basis of a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Indiana has anti-discrimination laws, but they deal with categories such as race and do not cover sexual orientation.
Meanwhile in Arkansas, the Legislature prepared to pass a law similar to the one in Indiana and in 20 other states.
Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr