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The Journal Gazette

  • Associated Press Indiana Senate President Pro Tem David Long, left, R-Fort Wayne, and House Speaker Brian C. Bosma R-Indianapolis, discuss their plans for clarifying the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act during a news conference Monday at the Statehouse in Indianapolis.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016 10:51 am

Leaders intend to clarify bill

Niki Kelly The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – GOP legislative leaders tried to tamp down a furor over a new religious freedom law Monday, saying they will quickly offer a provision to make clear that the law isn’t intended to discriminate against gays and lesbians.

"We don’t believe anyone should be discriminated against and are more than willing to clarify," said Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne.

Early in the day, no specific measure was available, but later, House Speaker Brian Bosma met with his Republican members for hours and came away with a better idea.

"The clarifying statement that (the law) cannot be used to deny services, facilities or goods to any member of the public is probably a good place to start," he said.

Long said lawmakers aren’t buckling to opposition – "we are reacting to an obvious misconception on what the law does. I don’t think we have ever seen a reaction like this."

National news media have descended on the Statehouse, with major outlets doing interviews on the lawn. This has followed a weeklong uproar over the bill, including a boycott of Indiana by some, convention organizers rethinking plans, and business leaders expressing outrage.

Opponents fear Senate Bill 101, which was signed into law by Gov. Mike Pence last week, will be used by some religious businesses to justify denying services. The bill doesn’t take effect until July 1.

Both Long and Bosma had to acknowledge for the first time Monday that some supporters also have proclaimed that the law would allow Christian bakers, florists and photographers to deny service to same-sex couples without penalty. Advance America and the American Family Association of Indiana – both of whom had lobbyists at the private bill signing behind Pence – have pushed that narrative in interviews and on websites.

"A small tribe of people are suggesting it does that," Long said. "They are mistaken. To the extent they are saying that, I disagree with their interpretation."

Those groups, along with the Indiana Family Institute, also fought for a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

Bosma said one reason for Monday’s press conference was that Pence "did not answer some questions clearly" on a national news show Sunday morning. He said later he had not spoken with Pence at all Monday.

Meanwhile, Democratic legislative leaders have drafted a measure to simply repeal the law altogether. They said that nothing else will repair Indiana’s image problem.

"When you have a bill which is this tainted, this corrupted, there’s no fix to it," said Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson. "You just get rid of it."

Bosma agreed Monday that right now in most of Indiana – regardless of whether the religious freedom bill passed – businesses could put up "no gays allowed" signs already with no legal repercussions.

That’s because sexual orientation is not a protected class in state law as gender and race are.

But a handful of cities have local human rights ordinances that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in housing, employment and public accommodations. Many feel the new religious freedom statute would supersede those ordinances.

Republican Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard – who isn’t running for re-election – urged lawmakers to add sexual identity or orientation as a protected class to state civil rights protections.

"That is a difficult course to chart in the next four weeks," Bosma said. "It is fraught with opponents and proponents. What everyone seems to agree on is that we shouldn’t allow vendors to deny services, facilities or goods to any Hoosier."

The Indiana Chamber of Commerce also stepped into the fray, which has been a national story for more than a week.

"We communicated that a legislative fix must be significant and make it crystal clear that the law does not in any way open the door for discrimination of any kind toward any individual or group of individuals," said State Chamber President Kevin Brinegar."

"Unfortunately, Indiana has taken a tremendous hit to its national identity as a welcoming and hospitable state. The business community is concerned about losing contracts and customers for a law that it did not support and did not want to see happen."

nkelly@jg.net