Indiana faced tremendous backlash over the past week for the passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) that essentially will allow businesses to cite "religious freedom" in refusing to serve LGBT customers. Caught off guard by the ferocity of opposition, Gov. Mike Pence deferred to critics, announcing at a Tuesday morning press conference that Indiana's religious freedom bill will include an anti-discrimination clause to forbid discrimination against gays.
Pence told reporters that he would like to see an amendment by this week, but stood by the law, saying that he was proud of it despite the widespread backlash. The Daily Beast reported that Pence said:
I abhor discrimination. I've come to the conclusion that if would be helpful to move legislation this week that makes it clear that this legislation does not give businesses the right to deny services to anyone.
The law signed by Pence on Thursday prohibits state laws that "substantially burden" a person's ability to follow his or her religious beliefs — with the definition of a "person" including religious institutions, businesses, and associations. Intense and immediate outrage poured through the nation after Pence signed the RFRA into law, resulting in calls for a boycott of the Hoosier state. Citizens and celebrities — among them Tim Cook and George Takei — took to Twitter to denounce Pence and the law, and Seattle, San Francisco, and the entire state of Connecticut banned state-funded travel to Indiana.
The vitriol of the backlash was not expected — Pence said that he "can't account for the hostility that's been directed at our state" — but he defended Indiana on Tuesday, saying that discrimination was never his intention. The governor did admit, however, that he could have dealt with the controversy differently, adding that he was working with other lawmakers "around the clock" to address the concerns that the law legalized discrimination against the LGBT community. He said:
This law does not give anyone a license to deny services to gay and lesbian couples. I could have handled that better this week. ...
If this law had been about discrimination, I would have vetoed it. I don’t believe for a minute that it was the intention of the General Assembly to create a license to discriminate, or a right to deny services to gays, lesbians or anyone else in this state, and that was not my intent, but I can appreciate that that's become the perception.
The Times reported that Pence also blasted “gross mischaracterizations about the bill” and "false and baseless" accounts of the RFRA, attributing the negative nationwide response to "reckless reporting by some in the media."
We want to make it clear that Indiana is open for business, we want to make it clear that Hoosier hospitality is not a slogan — it's a way of life. The things that have been said about our state have been at times deeply offensive to me and I will continue to use every effort to defend the good and decent people of Indiana.
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