US & Canada

Indiana officials scramble to stem 'religious law' backlash

Demonstrators gathered on Monday in Indianapolis and called on the law to be rolled back Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Demonstrators gathered on Monday in Indianapolis and called on the law to be rolled back

Lawmakers in Indiana are scrambling to control the growing fall out from a widely denounced "religious freedom" law that critics say would permit discrimination against gays.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Mike Pence said the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) had been "grossly misconstrued" as anti-gay.

Despite a national outcry, Arkansas is set enact a similar measure on Tuesday.

Mr Pence is expected to hold a news conference on Tuesday.

"I abhor discrimination," he wrote, rejecting claims it legalises discrimination.

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) prohibits state laws that "substantially burden" a person's religious beliefs. It defines "person" to included religious institutions, businesses and associations.

The governor went on the attack after a number of famous names, corporations and sporting institutions warned that business owners now had a licence to discriminate against gays and lesbians.

Is Indiana law anti-gay?

Image copyright Thinkstock
  • Critics say yes, it means a florist could refuse to provide flowers for a gay wedding, for example
  • but supporters say it is about religious freedom not exclusion
  • 20 US states have such laws but few go as far as Indiana's in giving protection to businesses
  • and some of those states have other laws that prevent discrimination against minorities.

Mr Pence signed the legislation into law last week, but some of his fellow Republicans are already seeking to make amendments.

Critics believe it provides a way for opponents of gay marriage, which became legal in Indiana last year, to continue their opposition by other means.

The governor has found himself under intense pressure to amend the law, as other US states have done, to add anti-discrimination language.

A chorus of criticism has been growing for nearly a week, and the backlash has made allies of Hillary Clinton and Miley Cyrus, and Angie's List and Apple.

On Tuesday, the Indianapolis Star ran a full, front page editorial calling on state leaders to enact protections for gays and transgendered people.

Many businesses across the state have posted placards and stickers saying they serve everyone, and the official tourism site for Indianapolis - the state's capital - features a rainbow graphic and a "LGBT guide to Indy".

Image copyright Indianapolis Star
Image caption The front page of the Indianapolis Star on Tuesday features a full page editorial

And the National Collegiate Athletic Association said it was "especially concerned" about how the law would affect its athletes, days before its basketball finals are being held in the state capital.

A day after a awkward television interview in which he repeatedly refused to answer direct questions about how the law might be used against gay people, Mr Pence had a clearer message for readers of the Wall Street Journal.

"I abhor discrimination. I believe in the Golden Rule that you should 'do unto others as you would have them do unto you.'

"If I saw a restaurant owner refuse to serve a gay couple, I wouldn't eat there anymore.

"As governor of Indiana, if I were presented a bill that legalised discrimination against any person or group, I would veto it."

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Media captionMr Pence repeatedly avoided questions about the law

The mayor of Indianapolis, as he prepares to play host to the nation's largest college basketball tournament, has reaffirmed the city's protection of gays and lesbians.

Mayor Greg Ballard, a Republican, issued an executive order affirming that any person or institution receiving public funds would have to abide by the city's human rights ordinance, which protects minority groups.

On Monday, hundreds of protestors packed in to the Arkansas' Capitol to oppose that state's measure. They held signs emblazoned with "Discrimination is not a Christian Value" and "Discrimination is a disease".

While many states have passed legislation similar to Indiana's, critics say it goes further because it empowers corporations to discriminate, with no state protection for gays and lesbians.

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