WASHINGTON -- Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) signed a revised version of a "religious freedom" law Thursday, hoping to quiet national criticism that the original law would have allowed businesses to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals.
"Over the past week this law has become a subject of great misunderstanding and controversy across our state and nation," said Pence in a statement Thursday evening. "However we got here, we are where we are, and it is important that our state take action to address the concerns that have been raised and move forward."
Indiana's original Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which Pence signed last week, would have allowed any individual or corporation to cite religious beliefs as a defense when sued by a private party. But the law was written so broadly that many businesses and LGBT advocates said they worried it would open the door to widespread discrimination.
Pence and the GOP-controlled legislature quickly faced criticism both from within the state and around the country. Several groups withdrew events from the state in protest, and Angie's List -- an Indianapolis-based business run by a former Republican staffer -- canceled a planned $40 million expansion of its headquarters. Businesses, including Apple and Marriott, condemned the law, and some states and localities signed orders boycotting Indiana.
Pence maintained that the law did not allow discrimination against anyone, although he said he would back changes to the legislation to clear up any "mischaracterization." The General Assembly passed the new version of RFRA Thursday afternoon.
The revised law explicitly bars a business from denying services to someone on the basis of categories that include sexual orientation and gender identity.
In the end, the RFRA "fix" didn't really make anyone happy.
While many LGBT groups said they were relieved that the potentially harmful effects of RFRA were addressed, they were disappointed that the state did not go further and simply repeal the measure. And the new language does nothing to expand LGBT rights from where they were prior to Pence's signing of the RFRA; LGBT discrimination is still legal in Indiana, since it lacks comprehensive protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
"The changes proposed by the Legislature represent a step in the right direction that takes us closer to achieving our goal of passing the Fairness for All Hoosiers Act," said Freedom Indiana Campaign Manager Katie Blair, referring to a proposed measure would protect LGBT people from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations. "Today, the harm has been lessened, but we have not reached the day when LGBT Hoosiers can be assured that they can live their lives with freedom from discrimination."
Democrats in the legislature largely agreed with this position.
"If we are to decisively end the economic chaos that has come to our state as a result of this act, then any answer had to have started by repealing RFRA entirely," said Indiana state House Minority Leader Scott Pelath (D). "Then we could have started the hard work of building protections for the original targets of this law and healing our state's battered image."
Angie's List CEO Bill Oesterle also called the new language "insufficient," noting his company wanted to see full RFRA repeal and LGBT protections written into law.
And Republicans ultimately lost the religious right, RFRA's strongest supporters, with the new measure.
Eric Miller, founder and executive director of the conservative advocacy group Advance America, stood with Pence as he signed RFRA last week during a private ceremony.
"The proposed change to Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act is not a 'fix' but a hammer to destroy religious freedom for Hoosiers around the state -– and it was all done behind closed doors!" said Miller Thursday.
"This new proposal guts the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and empowers the government to impose punishing fines on people for following their beliefs about marriage," added Family Research Council President Tony Perkins.
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchison (R) signed his state's own RFRA Thursday, after he asked the legislature to amend it to address concerns about potential LGBT discrimination.
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