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Indiana Gov. Promises to Adjust Religious Freedom Law to Clearly Ban Discrimination

Governor Mike Pence
3 min read

After a week under fire from activists and businesses, Gov. Mike Pence wants to make it clear that he did not intend to sign a law that legalizes discrimination against gay citizens.

On Tuesday, the Indiana governor announced that he was calling on state lawmakers to pass legislation that made it clear that a recently passed religious freedom bill does not give businesses the right to deny customers service. Pence claimed that the perception of the legislation as discriminatory was misguided, but that the law would be amended to prevent confusion.

While the legislation did not mention sexual orientation, the bill's passage immediately provoked an outcry from individuals concerned that the bill will allow businesses to opt out of laws crucial to protecting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender citizens. The bill – which declared the government may not "substantially burden" business owners religious practices – seemed to many critics to be a license to choose not to serve gay or lesbian customers. 

Related: Why I Don't Want to Have Coffee With You

Many entrepreneur and businesses immediately spoke out against the legislation and announced decisions to take business out of the state. Organizations from Subaru to Gap have criticized the law as discriminatory and intolerant. Apple CEO Tim Cook wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post opposing the law as part of a new wave of homophobic legislation that threatened business growth. New York, Washington and Connecticut have all banned state-funded travel or administration travel to the state.

Since the legislation was announced, several major events have been canceled in the state, including a Wilco concert, a comedy show starring Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally and the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees' 2015 Women's Conference.

It remains unclear what the "clarification" of the law will necessitate and how the revised legislation will affect citizens and businesses. The original law was short and vague, with language that isn't found in other state Religious Freedom Restoration acts. Additionally, the state does not currently have laws addressing hate or bias crimes against gay or transgender citizens, but individual cities and counties do.

While Pence claims that the law was only ever intended to more fully protect religious liberty on a state level, it has already been one with a big impact on Indiana businesses – and not in a good way. 

Related: Indiana Governor Signs Religious Freedom Law, Sparking Debates That Echo the Hobby Lobby Dispute

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