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The latest developments on religious objection laws

1 year 8 months 4 days ago April 01, 2015 Apr 1, 2015 Wednesday, April 01 2015 April 01, 2015 9:39 AM in News
Source: Associated Press
By: Jeni O'Malley

INDIANAPOLIS - Indiana Gov. Mike Pence has urged lawmakers to send a bill to his desk by the end of the week to clarify the intent of a new religious objections law that critics fear could allow discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Pence's move on Tuesday to quell a backlash over the law came as Arkansas lawmakers defied criticism and passed similar legislation that now heads to the governor. A look at the latest developments:

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WHAT THE LAWS SAY

The Indiana law, which takes effect July 1, does not specifically mention gays and lesbians, but opponents say it is designed to protect businesses and individuals who do not want to serve gays and lesbians, such as florists or caterers who might be hired for a same-sex wedding.

The law prohibits state laws that "substantially burden" a person's ability to follow his or her religious beliefs unless the government can show that it has a compelling interest and that the action is the least restrictive means of achieving it. The definition of "person" includes religious institutions, businesses and associations.

Critics say that language is broader than a 1993 federal law signed by then-President Bill Clinton that Pence says it's based on.

Twenty states now have similar laws in place.

Indiana University law professor Deborah Widiss said such laws across the country have not "been a sort of blank check to discriminate."

Widiss said the proposals are fueled by rulings legalizing gay marriage and by last year's Supreme Court interpretation of the federal law in a case involving retailer Hobby Lobby. The court ruled the retailer and other closely held private businesses with religious objections could opt out of providing the free contraceptive coverage required by President Barack Obama's health care law, the Affordable Care Act.

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CHANGES COMING

Pence said Tuesday he stands by the law but acknowledged that Indiana has a "perception problem." He said he has been meeting with lawmakers and business leaders "around the clock" to address concerns that the Indiana bill would allow discrimination.

The governor called for legislation addressing those issues by the end of the week, and Republican leaders said they were working on language.

Arkansas lawmakers said they would not modify their state's measure despite opponents' calls to do so.

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CRITICISMS POUR IN

Retail giant Wal-Mart issued a statement Tuesday saying Gov. Asa Hutchinson should veto the legislation. Wal-Mart Chief Executive Officer Doug McMillon said the bill threatens the state's spirt of inclusion and the Bentonville-based company's values.

Hutchinson, a Republican, has said he plans to sign the bill into law.

NASCAR said in a statement Tuesday that it was "disappointed" by the legislation, and the NCAA, which has had its headquarters in Indianapolis since 1999, says it is concerned about the law's effect on future Indiana events.

The governors of New York, Vermont, Washington and Connecticut have announced bans on certain state-funded travel to Indiana because of the law, as did the mayors of Denver, Seattle and Washington, D.C., for city-funded travel.

Many Indiana businesses are trying to counter the negative attention by posting signs or stickers saying they serve everyone. But the state has already lost a union conference planned for October worth an estimated $500,000, and other businesses say they are curbing travel to the state.

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POLITICIANS REACT

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and other potential 2016 Republican presidential candidates have jumped to the defense of Pence and Indiana's law. Bush said the law was "simply allowing people of faith space to be able to express their beliefs" and compared the measure to one in Florida.

Several high-profile Democrats, including possible presidential contenders Hillary Rodham Clinton and former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, have been critical of the measure. O'Malley said it's "shameful" for Republicans to support the law.

While Pence insisted that he abhors discrimination, Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy of Connecticut called him a "bigot" during an appearance on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" Tuesday. Malloy cited a photograph showing Pence signing the bill with several gay-rights opponents in attendance, including one who has likened being gay to bestiality.

"That's who he invited to the signing ceremony. He knew exactly what he was doing. And when you see a bigot, you have to call him on it," Malloy said.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the Indiana law is "a much more open-ended piece of legislation" than the 1993 federal law and "flies in the face of the kinds of values that people all across the country strongly support."

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