Indiana governor wants changes to religious-objections law

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Indiana Governor Addresses Religious Freedom Restoration Act

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Indiana Gov. Mike Pence 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 does not allow discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Pence defended the 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 governor 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."

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Indiana governor wants changes to religious-objections law
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - APRIL 2: Indiana Senate President Pro Tem David Long speaks as House Speaker Brian Bosma (R) looks on during a press conference about anti-discrimination safeguards added to the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act at the State Capitol April, 2, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The bill prompted a swift backlash nationwide with businesses and entertainers promising to boycott the state. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - APRIL 2: Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma speaks as Senate President Pro Tem David Long (L) looks on during a press conference about anti-discrimination safeguards added to the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act at the State Capitol April, 2, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The bill prompted a swift backlash nationwide with businesses and entertainers promising to boycott the state. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 31: U.S. Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) holds a press conference March 31, 2015 at the Indiana State Library in Indianapolis, Indiana. Pence spoke about the state's controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act which has been condemned by business leaders and Democrats. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 31: U.S. Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) holds a press conference March 31, 2015 at the Indiana State Library in Indianapolis, Indiana. Pence spoke about the state's controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act which has been condemned by business leaders and Democrats. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 30: Demonstrators gather outside the City County Building on March 30, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The group called on the state house to roll back the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which critics say can be used to discriminate against gays and lesbians. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 30: Demonstrator JD Ford speaks outside the City County Building on March 30, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The group called on the state house to roll back the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which critics say can be used to discriminate against gays and lesbians. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 31: U.S. Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) holds a press conference March 31, 2015 at the Indiana State Library in Indianapolis, Indiana. Pence spoke about the state's controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act which has been condemned by business leaders and Democrats. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - March 30: City County Council Vice President John Barth introduces a resolution calling for the repeal or revision of the state's controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act at the City County Building in March 30, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Protestors have called on the state house to roll back the religious freedom law that criticssay can be used to discriminate against gays and lesbians. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 30: Demonstrators react to the City County Council passing a resolution calling on the state to repeal or revise it's controversial Religious Freedom Restoration act at the City County Building in March 30, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Protestors have called on the state house to roll back the religious freedom law that critics say can be used to discriminate against gays and lesbians. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)
Indiana Senate President Pro Tem David Long, left, R-Fort Wayne, and House Speaker Brian C. Bosma R-Indianapolis, discuss their plans for clarifying the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act during a news conference at the Statehouse in Indianapolis, Monday, March 30, 2015. Republican legislative leaders in Indiana state say they are working on adding language to a new state law to make it clear that it doesn't allow discrimination against gays and lesbians. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 30: Demonstrators gather outside the City County Building on March 30, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The group called on the state house to roll back the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which critics say can be used to discriminate against gays and lesbians. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)
Indiana Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane, left, D-Anderson, and Indiana House Democratic Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, call for the repeal of the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act during a news conference at the Statehouse in Indianapolis, Monday, March 30, 2015. Republican legislative leaders say they are working on adding language to a new state law to make it clear that it doesn't allow discrimination against gays and lesbians. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 30: Demonstrators gather outside the City County Building on March 30, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The group called on the state house to roll back the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which critics say can be used to discriminate against gays and lesbians. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 30: Demonstrators gather outside the City County Building on March 30, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The group called on the state house to roll back the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which critics say can be used to discriminate against gays and lesbians. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 30: Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard speaks about Indiana's controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act outside the City County Building in March 30, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The mayor called on the state house to roll back the religious freedom law that many feel can be used to discriminate against gays and lesbians. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 30: Demonstrator JD Ford speaks outside the City County Building on March 30, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The group called on the state house to roll back the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which critics say can be used to discriminate against gays and lesbians. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 30: Angie's List CEO Bill Oesterle speaks about Indiana's controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act outside the City County Building in March 30, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Angie's List has threatened to pull out of a planned expantion in the state over the religious freedom law, that many feel can be used to discriminate against gays and lesbians. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)
Rep. Timothy Wesco, R-Osceola, addresses a rally of supporters of a religious freedom bill at the Statehouse in Indianapolis, Monday, Feb. 9, 2015. Weson is the author of the bill that the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on later in the day. The Republican-sponsored proposal would prohibit any state laws that "substantially burden" a person's ability to follow his or her religious beliefs and extends the definition of a "person" to include religious institutions, businesses and associations. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence holds a news conference at the Statehouse in Indianapolis, Thursday, March 26, 2015. Pence has signed into law a religious objections bill that some convention organizers and business leaders have opposed amid concern it could allow discrimination against gay people. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
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The law prohibits state 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 including Apple and the NCAA have voiced concern over the effect of the law, and some states have barred government-funded travel to Indiana.

Also Tuesday, the Indianapolis Star urged Indiana 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. It called for lawmakers to enact a law that would prohibit discrimination on the basis of a person's sexual orientation or gender identity.

The newspaper says the uproar sparked by the law has "done enormous harm" to the state and potentially to its economic future.

Meanwhile, Arkansas was poised to follow Indiana in enacting a law despite increasing criticism from businesses and gay-rights advocates.

The Arkansas House could vote as early as Tuesday on a proposal that would prohibit state and local governments from infringing on a person's religious beliefs without a "compelling" reason. And unlike in Indiana, Arkansas lawmakers said they won't modify their measure.

"There's not really any place to make any changes now," Republican Rep. Bob Ballinger of Hindsville said about his proposal. "If there are questions in two years, we can fix it."

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.

"I believe that many people will want to flee the state, and many people will want to avoid our state," said Rita Jernigan, a protester and one of the lead plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit challenging Arkansas' gay marriage ban.

Similar proposals have been introduced in more than a dozen states, patterned after the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. Nineteen other states have similar laws on the books.

Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who had expressed reservations about unintended consequences of an earlier version of the bill, has said he will sign the current measure into law.

"If this bill reaches my desk in similar form as to what has been passed in 20 other states, then I will sign it, but I am pleased that the Legislature is continuing to look at ways to assure balance and fairness in the legislation," Hutchinson said Monday in a statement.

In a letter released Tuesday, Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola urged Hutchinson to veto the proposal, which he said would hurt the state's economic-development efforts because it "sends the message that some members of our community will have fewer protections than others. Our city and our state cannot be limited to only certain segments of society."

Sexual orientation and gender identity are not included in Arkansas' anti-discrimination protections. Last month, Hutchinson allowed a measure to go into law that prevented local governments from including such protections in their anti-discrimination ordinances.

Opponents of the bill hoped to target Hutchinson's promise to be a "jobs governor" made during his successful bid last year for the state's top office. The Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights group, has run ads in Silicon Valley aimed at the same technology firms Hutchinson has said he wants to lure to Arkansas.

Apple CEO Tim Cook wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post over the weekend opposing the Arkansas and Indiana measures, while retail giant Wal-Mart has said the proposal sends the wrong message about its home state. Little Rock-based data services company Acxiom also urged Hutchinson to veto the bill, saying the measure would enable discrimination and open the state up to ridicule.

"This bill is at direct odds with your position that `Arkansas is open for business,'" CEO Scott Howe and Executive Vice President Jerry C. Jones wrote Monday in a letter to the governor.

In Indiana, the fallout has ranged from the public-employee union known as AFSCME canceling a planned women's conference in Indianapolis this year because of the law to the band Wilco canceling a May performance.

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