INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana Gov. Mike Pence defended the new state law that’s garnered widespread criticism over concerns it could foster discrimination and said Sunday it wasn’t a mistake to have enacted it.
Pence appeared on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” to discuss the measure he signed last week prohibiting state laws that “substantially burden” a person’s ability to follow his or her religious beliefs. The definition of “person” includes religious institutions, businesses and associations.
Since the Republican governor signed the bill into law Thursday, Indiana has been widely criticized by businesses and organizations around the nation, as well as on social media with the hashtag #boycottindiana.
Already, consumer review service Angie’s List has said it will suspend a planned expansion in Indianapolis because of the new law.
Pence did not answer directly when asked at least six times whether under the law it would be legal for a merchant to refuse to serve gay customers.
“This is not about discrimination, this is about empowering people to confront government overreach,” he said. Asked again, he said, “Look, the issue here is still is tolerance a two-way street or not.”
Pence told the Indianapolis Star on Saturday that he was in discussions with legislative leaders over the weekend and expects a clarification bill to be introduced in the coming week. He addressed that Sunday, saying, “if the General Assembly … sends me a bill that adds a section that reiterates and amplifies and clarifies what the law really is and what it has been for the last 20 years, then I’m open to that.”
But Pence was adamant that the measure, slated to take effect in July, will stick. “We’re not going to change this law,” he said.
Sexual orientation is not covered under Indiana’s civil rights law. Pence has said he “won’t be pursuing that.”
Some national LGBT rights groups say it’s a way for lawmakers in Indiana and several others states where such bills have been proposed this year to essentially grant a state-sanctioned waiver for discrimination as the nation’s highest court prepares to mull the gay marriage question.