Gov. Mike Pence: 'This Is a Perception Problem'

Gov. Mike Pence: 'This Is a Perception Problem'

Amid growing nationwide outcry over Indiana's newly enacted "Religious Freedom Restoration Act," Gov. Mike Pence held a press conference Tuesday morning to address critics who say the law gives businesses and individuals a right to discriminate against LGBT Hoosiers. 

"This law does not create a license to discriminate, and this law does not give businesses a right to deny service to anyone," Pence said. "I think it would be helpful if the general assembly were to get legislation to my desk that were to make that clear."

The governor, who repeated that he was "proud" to have signed the bill into law last week, rejected allegations that lawmakers intentionally sought to draft a bill that would make Indiana a less welcoming state.

 "I don't believe for one minute that it was the intention of the general assembly to create a license to discriminate or deny services to anybody," said the governor, then reiterating that he would "welcome" legislation to make that clear. 

Instead, he suggested that "Twitter reporting" has misconstrued the impact and intent of the bill — which he claimed is almost identical to the federal RFRA passed by President Clinton. (For the record, Indiana's legislation includes much more broad, vague language than does the federal legislation, note The Atlantic and ThinkProgress.) 

"The perception has gone far afield to what this law really does," said Pence. When pressed about the numerous businesses that have come out against the law, the governor hedged, saying he "couldn't speak to private conversations" that are "ongoing." 

"I think we all understand that this is a perception problem, and we need to deal with it, because it's the right thing to do," the Governor said. "I remain hopeful that if we focus on the principal misperception, that we will garner support, restore confidence, and be able to move forward."

When asked if the legislation gives Hoosiers a right to deny service to gay and lesbian people, Pence was notably more direct than he was during his interview on Sunday with ABC's George Stephanopoulos. 

"I don't support discrimination against gays or lesbians, or anyone else," the governor said. "I abhor discrimination. I want to say this: No one should be harassed because of who they are, who they love, or what they believe. I believe it with all my heart."

Calling himself "typical in Indiana," the governor said Hoosiers were known worldwide as "loving, kind, decent, and tolerant people." 

"The suggestion that because we passed a law to strengthen religious liberty in our courts, that we had somehow created a license to discriminate, is deeply offensive to me," Pence stated.  

One reporter noted that Indiana currently lacks nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people — and asked if the governor would consider updating the state's nondiscrimination laws to include sexual orientation. 

"I think that's a separate issue," replied the governor. "That's a separate question that ought to be considered separate from religious liberty. … [But] I believe it would be appropriate to clarify this law."

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