At a press conference this morning, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence repeatedly claimed that the state's new Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which he signed into law Thursday, does not give individuals or businesses in the state a "license to discriminate" against LGBT Hoosiers.
Pence expressed surprise at the huge backlash to the state legislation, which he said is substantially similar to the federal RFRA enacted by President Clinton in 1993.
For the record, the Indiana legislation is much broader than that in the federal law, with vague language that The Atlantic found "hints most strongly that it is there to be used as a means of excluding gays and same-sex couples from accessing employment, housing, and public accommodations on the same terms as other people."
"Was I expecting this kind of backlash?" the governor asked at this morning's press conference, repeating a reporter's inquiry. "Heavens, no."
But as state lawmakers seek to "clarify" the law, considering adding nondiscrimination protections for Hoosiers on the basis of sexual orientation, several Republican heavy hitters have lined up to echo Gov. Pence's unwavering support for the law as it was passed.
Here's what the Republicans reportedly considering a presidential run in 2016 have said about Indiana's law:
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush not only claimed that "Governor Pence has done the right thing," but also that "we're going to need this" kind of law, in a radio interview Monday with Republican talk show host and law professor Hugh Hewitt, reports LGBT blog The New Civil Rights Movement. Read what the presumptive GOP candidate for 2016 said:
"I think if you, if they actually got briefed on the law that they wouldn't be blasting this law. I think Governor Pence has done the right thing. Florida has a law like this. Bill Clinton signed a law like this at the federal level. This is simply allowing people of faith space to be able to express their beliefs, to have, to be able to be people of conscience. I just think once the facts are established, people aren't going to see this as discriminatory at all. ...
"But there are incidents of people who, for example, the florist in Washington State who had a business that based on her conscience, she couldn't be participating in a gay wedding, organizing it, even though the person, one of the people was a friend of hers. And she was taken to court, and is still in court, or the photographer in New Mexico. There are many cases where people acting on their conscience have been castigated by the government. And this law simply says the government has to have a level of burden to be able to establish that there's been some kind of discrimination. We're going to need this. This is really an important value for our country to, in a diverse country, where you can respect and be tolerant of people's lifestyles, but allow for people of faith to be able to exercise theirs."
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, the only Republican to formally announce his presidential campaign, is using his support for Indiana's law as a fundraising tool."I'm proud to stand with Gov. Mike Pence, and I urge Americans to do the same," reads a statement from the senator on his official campaign site.
Here's Cruz's statement in full:
"I want to commend Governor Mike Pence for his support of religious freedom, especially in the face of fierce opposition. There was a time, not too long ago, when defending religious liberty enjoyed strong bipartisan support. Alas, today we are facing a concerted assault on the First Amendment, on the right of every American to seek out and worship God according to the dictates of his or her conscience. Governor Pence is holding the line to protect religious liberty in the Hoosier State. Indiana is giving voice to millions of courageous conservatives across this country who are deeply concerned about the ongoing attacks upon our personal liberties. I'm proud to stand with Mike, and I urge Americans to do the same."
Ben Carson, the former neurosurgeon with a long record of rabidly antigay public comments, weighed in on Indiana's law at right-wing website Breitbart. Carson, who rose to prominence after he criticized President Obama at the 2013 National Prayer Breakfast, has repeatedly said he is considering a bid for the White House in 2016.
"It is absolutely vital that we do all we can to allow Americans to practice their religious ways, while simultaneously ensuring that no one's beliefs infringe upon those of others," Carson told the site. "We should also serve as champions of freedom of religion throughout the world. ... As Americans, we have an obligation to denounce these acts of persecution. For when we stand up to such intolerance, we are defending the root of our freedom, both at home and abroad."
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who has prominently flirted with the idea of a 2016 presidential candidacy, offered his support for Indiana's RFRA in a statement to Fox News, where the politician recently ended a prime-time hosting gig.
"We must stand behind those who stand up for religious freedoms," Huckabee told Fox News, then posted on his Facebook page. "Indiana's law is the same that was supported and signed by President Bill Clinton and most Democrats back in 1993; Senator Barack Obama also supported it at one time. It's not a bill that discriminates, but protects from religious discrimination and upholds religious liberty for everyone."
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio addressed Indiana's RFRA on Monday's episode of The Five on Fox News, adding his support for the bill while rejecting comparisons between bans on same-sex marriage and the since-overturned bans on interracial marriage.
"Nobody is saying that it should be legal to deny someone service at a restaurant or at a hotel because of their sexual orientation," said Rubio, according to CNN. "I think that's a consensus view in America. ... The flip side is, should a photographer be punished for refusing to do a wedding that their faith teaches them is not one that is valid in the eyes of God?"
"I think people have the right to live out their religious faith in their own lives," Rubio continued. "They can't impose it on you in your life. But they have a right to live it out in their own lives. And when you're asking someone who provides professional services to do something, or be punished by law, that violates their faith, you're violating that religious liberty that they have."
"I support the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act because I support religious liberty as granted to us in our Constitution," Jindal told Breitbart in an email Monday. "Last year I went to the Reagan Library to argue for the importance of religious liberty and make the case that it is under attack in America today. The fact that there are some who think this law in Indiana, which merely makes it clear that local governments must respect our religious liberty, is controversial clearly shows that religious liberty is indeed under attack."
"I oppose discrimination and I reject the notion that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act is discriminatory," Jindal continued. "I will note that President Clinton signed the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act at the federal level and Secretary Hillary Clinton has now said she opposes this law. It would be interesting to learn if Secretary Hillary Clinton silently opposed this protection of religious liberty when President Clinton signed it, or if she has just recently 'evolved' on that. The great irony is that in the minds of today's liberals the only bigotry to be tolerated is their own bigotry against religious beliefs."
Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, who is considering a presidential run in 2016, told CNBC Monday that "everyone needs to sort of step back and cool off here and look at the facts" before ultimately deciding how they feel about Indiana's RFRA.
"Basically what this law says is that someone can have a remedy against the federal government for imposing on their religious beliefs," she said on CNBC's Closing Bell. "It's not in any company, or particularly a technology company's interest, to discriminate in any way and that's not what this law does. This law doesn't condone discrimination. I guess what I wish is that everyone could cool off and look at the facts before they jump onto Twitter and condemn something that clearly there's a huge amount of misunderstanding about."
Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator and presidential candidate whose long history of antigay rhetoric earned him an infamous "Google problem" when author Dan Savage equated his last name with the frothy byproduct of anal sex, offered his initial support for Indiana's law via Twitter.
\u201cI stand with @mikepence4gov in defense of religious liberty and real tolerance. Will speak about this at GW tonight. https://t.co/TDPWHw91pL\u201d
Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who launched a failed presidential bid in 2012, Tuesday tweeted his support for Indiana's law, which is in fact substantially similar to the RFRA currently in force in Texas. Mississippi is the only other state with a similarly sweeping "license to discriminate" law on the books, while Arkansas is poised to pass a similar bill within the week.
\u201cI stand with @GovPenceIN. Religious freedom is worth protecting. #RFRA\u201d
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who Fox News reports is expected to announce his presidential campaign next month, is reportedly on vacation with his family and unavailable for comment. However, Breitbart notes that earlier this month, Paul told a group of conservative supporters that he stands behind the idea of protecting "religious liberty."
"The First Amendment says keep government out of religion," Paul reportedly told a group of pastors and religious leaders at a private prayer breakfast in Washington, D.C., earlier this month. "It doesn't say keep religion out of government."
The same weekend, Paul told Fox News that he could support relationship recognition for same-sex couples, but that calling such unions marriage "offends myself and a lot of people."
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walkerhasn't directly commented on the law, but a spokeswoman for his campaign told reporters "As a matter of principle, Gov. Walker believes in broad religious freedom and the right for Americans to exercise their religion and act on their conscience," according to Fox News.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, also considered to be a likely 2016 GOP presidential candidate, has not yet publicly commented about Indiana's law, which Fox News called "a 2016 litmus test."