Sunday, March 29, 2015

Gov. Mike Pence: "Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act Wasn't Meant to Discriminate against Gays"

As anticipated, Indiana passed its controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law, signed and sealed by Gov. Mike Pence. And as anticipated, the shame of this new law has already proven difficult for the state to cope with.

George Takei has threatened a boycott of Indiana over SB101. Gen Con has threatened to pull out of the state. The Disciples of Christ have threatened to pull their annual convention from the state. Angie's List has canceled a $40 million expansion of their Indiana HQ over SB101. Salesforce.com has canceled all corporate-related travel to the state of Indiana. Thousands of Indiana citizens protested yesterday on the streets of Indianapolis.

And now Gov. Mike Pence has blinked:
Gov. Mike Pence, scorched by a fast-spreading political firestorm, told The Star on Saturday that he will support the introduction of legislation to “clarify” that Indiana’s controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act does not promote discrimination against gays and lesbians.

“I support religious liberty, and I support this law,” Pence said in an exclusive interview. “But we are in discussions with legislative leaders this weekend to see if there’s a way to clarify the intent of the law.”

The governor, although not ready to provide details on what the new bill will say, said he expects the legislation to be introduced into the General Assembly this coming week.

Asked if that legislation might include making gay and lesbian Hoosiers a protected legal class, Pence said, “That’s not on my agenda.”

Amid the deepest crisis of his political career, Pence said repeatedly that the intense blowback against the new law is the result of a “misunderstanding driven by misinformation.”

He adamantly insisted that RFRA will not open the door to state-sanctioned discrimination against gays and lesbians. But he did acknowledge that Indiana’s image — and potentially its economic health — has been hurt badly by the controversy...

Behind the scenes, Pence and his team have been scrambling to mitigate that damage — both to the state and to the governor’s political career...

I asked the governor if he had anticipated the strongly negative reaction set off by the bill’s passage. His response made it clear that he and his team didn’t see it coming.

“I just can’t account for the hostility that’s been directed at our state,” he said. “I’ve been taken aback by the mischaracterizations from outside the state of Indiana about what is in this bill.”

In defense of the legislation, he noted that 19 other states and the federal government have adopted RFRA laws similar to Indiana’s. And he pointed out that President Barack Obama voted for Illinois’ version of RFRA as a state senator.
You can read SB101 here. Indiana's RFRA law is different from other versions in that it provides a legal defense of religious belief even if the state is not party to the case. In other words, this would allow a business owner to use their religious beliefs to justify refusing services to same-sex couples or whomever -- essentially superseding any municipal nondiscrimination laws protecting specific classes of people.

And despite what Gov. Pense says about RFRA not being about anti-gay discrimination and about this being a distortion from leftists, social and religious conservative proponents of SB101 have already admitted that RFRA should be used as a tool to justify anti-gay discrimination.

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