Indiana Scrambling to 'Clarify' Discriminatory Law

Indiana Scrambling to 'Clarify' Discriminatory Law

Republican leadership in Indiana is scrambling to fix damage done by passing the "Religious Freedom Restoration Act" and then by Governor Mike Pence's dodgy interview on ABC's This Week. Pence repeatedly refused to say, yes or no, whether the law discriminates against gays and lesbians.

"There were questions asked this weekend about whether Senate Bill 101 was designed, had the intent, or would have the effect of discriminating against gay and lesbian Hoosiers," said the Republican Speaker of the House Brian Bosma, before adding plainly, "The answer is no. That is not the intent or the design of the bill. The answer is no, it's not the effect of the bill."

"Last week, the governor when he signed the bill said, 'I don't believe this discriminates against anyone and if it did I wouldn't have signed the bill. It would have been helpful if he said that yesterday," noted the Senate president pro tempore, David Long, according to video of the joint news conference posted by the Indianapolis Star.

Long said "a fix" in the form of a clarifying bill will quickly make its way through the legislature, "adding something to the law."

Meanwhile, Democrats say anything short of repeal of the law isn't enough. The Republicans have so far refused to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the state's anti-discrimination laws, which activists say would have a truly clarifying effect.

Following a several days of blistering criticism over Indiana's new "turn-away-the-gays" bill, Pence is also backing an addition to the bill that might "clarify the intent of the law," though he said on Sunday that "We're not going to change the law."

Pence has always held that the law, which prevents the government from substantially burdening a person or organization's exercise of religion, would not facilitate discrimination. But that claim has been met with skepticism by civil rights groups, which point out that many people consider discrimination against LGBTs to be an exercise of their religion.

Various major companies, events, and celebrities have spoken out against the law, which Pence signed on Thursday. He characterized the criticism as a "misunderstanding."

“I just can’t account for the hostility that’s been directed at our state," Pence said.

In at least one other state, "clarification" of similar bills has proven to be a poison pill. Georgia's version, for example, died after the addition of an amendment to clarify that the bill could not be used to circumvent nondiscrimination laws.

The clarifying bill would first need to be introduced by lawmakers in both chambers, then pass a vote before heading to the governor. Previously, the "turn-away-the-gays" bill passed the Senate 40 to 10, and the House 63 to 31. Lawmakers who championed SB101 may be unlikely to support a bill that undoes the very feature they supported.

Civil rights groups reacted with skepticism.

"You can't 'clarify' discrimination. Indiana now has billions of dollars and thousands of jobs on the line, all because the Governor wouldn't stop this dangerous bill. He has a second chance to save our reputation for Hoosier hospitality, but he has to stand up and protect LGBT Hoosiers," said Freedom Indiana campaign manager Katie Blair.

HRC's Chad Griff tweeted, "Note to @GovPenceIN: 'clarification' is phony unless it has explicit LGBT nondiscrim protections & RFRA civilrights carveout."

On the following page, watch the news conference and the Democrats' response.

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