WASHINGTON -- Republican presidential hopefuls are lining up in defense of Indiana’s controversial “religious freedom” law, which critics warn will open the door to legal discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals by businesses in the state.
“I think Gov. [Mike] Pence has done the right thing,” former Florida governor and likely 2016 contender Jeb Bush said in a Monday interview. “I think once the facts are established, people aren’t going to see this as discriminatory at all.”
As a reason why such laws are necessary, Bush pointed to the case of a Washington state florist who was fined for refusing to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding.
“There are many cases where people acting on their conscience have been cascaded by the government,” Bush told radio host Hugh Hewitt. “This law simply says the government has to have a level of burden to be able to establish there has been some kind of discrimination. We’re going to need this. This is really an important value in our country, where you can respect and be tolerant of people’s lifestyles but allow for people of faith to exercise theirs.”
Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which Pence signed into law last week, differs from similar laws passed by 19 other states because it can be raised in disputes between private citizens. Unlike those laws and even the federal version, which President Bill Clinton signed in 1993, the Indiana legislation allows businesses to cite religious beliefs as a legal defense.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who is expected to announce his bid for the White House next month, dodged a question Monday as to whether gay Americans should be legally protected against discrimination. But appearing on Fox News’ “The Five," he argued that religious freedom laws do make some sense.
“Obviously, it's raised a lot of debate in America about how far these laws go and what implications they would have, and it's a difficult debate to have for a lot of people,” Rubio said. “But I think the flip side of all of this debate is what about the religious liberties of Americans who do not want to feel compelled by law to provide a catering service or photography service to a same-sex marriage that their faith teaches is wrong?”
He added, “No one here is saying it should be legal to deny someone services at a hotel or at a restaurant because of their sexual orientation. I think that is a consensus view in America.”
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who has actually declared his candidacy for president, endorsed Pence's efforts in a statement Monday night.
"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," Cruz said.
Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), who has made moves toward a presidential run, on Tuesday said he stands with Pence. "Religious freedom is worth protecting," Perry wrote on Twitter.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R), another likely presidential contender, said in a statement that he supports Indiana’s new law because he supports “religious liberty as granted to us in our Constitution.” He joined his fellow White House hopefuls in rejecting the notion that the law is discriminatory.
Famed neurosurgeon Ben Carson, a darling of the conservative movement and star of this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference, told Breitbart News that it was “absolutely vital that we do all we can to allow Americans to practice their religious ways.”
Asked about the prospect of a religious freedom law in Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker (R), an early frontrunner for the GOP presidential nomination, sounded noncommittal.
"Well again, in our state, there's a balance between wanting to make sure there is not discrimination, but at the same time respecting religious freedoms,” Walker said, according to WisPolitics. “We do that different ways than what they’ve done in the state of Indiana, and certainly that’s going to be part of the debate here and across the country.”
But the governor's spokeswoman told Breitbart that Walker broadly supports religious freedom as “a matter of principle.”
The national backlash against Indiana's law has shown no sign of abating. On Monday, Connecticut became the first state to boycott Indiana, when Gov. Dan Malloy (D), himself a possible 2016 contender, signed an executive order barring state-funded travel to Indiana. Two major cities, San Francisco and Seattle, have imposed similar bans.
Several large businesses, including Angie’s List and Salesforce, have also pulled or delayed spending in the state. And Apple CEO Tim Cook wrote a Washington Post op-ed on Sunday night, denouncing Indiana’s law and putting Arkansas on notice over a similar bill making its way through the legislature there.
This story has been updated with Sen. Ted Cruz's statement and former Gov. Rick Perry's tweet on Indiana's new law.