Newspaper article International New York Times

Indiana Moves to Revise Rights Law ; Republicans Say New Bill Will Ban Discrimination against Gays and Lesbians

Newspaper article International New York Times

Indiana Moves to Revise Rights Law ; Republicans Say New Bill Will Ban Discrimination against Gays and Lesbians

Article excerpt

Lawmakers on Thursday announced plans to revise the measure, making it clear that it does not permit discrimination against gay people.

Indiana's top Republican lawmakers on Thursday announced plans to change a divisive measure billed as a religious freedom law, to make clear that it does not permit discrimination against gay men and lesbians, a day after the governor of Arkansas said he would not sign a similar bill.

The law enacted last week in Indiana, and the prospect of similar measures in other states, set off a national uproar, as critics charged that it was an anti-gay statute in the guise of religious freedom. An array of major companies and associations, and political figures around the country, spoke out against the law, and some said they would boycott Indiana, prompting state business leaders to demand changes in the measure.

A news conference Thursday morning in the statehouse in Indianapolis demonstrated the power of that economic argument, as a cadre of executives, along with gay rights activists, joined lawmakers to hail the proposed amendment to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which they said they expected to be approved by the General Assembly.

"Today's a significant day," said Allison Melangton, who led the city's 2012 Super Bowl host committee. "It's going to show us in our true light."

Barton R. Peterson, senior vice president of Eli Lilly and Company, and a former Indianapolis mayor, said that "the future of Indiana was at stake," and he praised lawmakers for putting the state's interests "above the desire to win, above the need for ideological purity, above the demands of politics."

The Republican leaders of the state Senate and House continued to insist that the original bill did not permit discrimination.

"We are sorry that that misinterpretation hurt so many people," said the House speaker, Brian C. Bosma. "I think the national concerns that were raised, that we're all hearing about, are put to bed."

Gay leaders welcomed the amendment, but said it was just a first step. Indiana, like most states, they said, does not have a law explicitly barring discrimination based on sexual orientation. The legislative leaders would not commit to considering such a provision, calling it a separate, more difficult issue, but suggested that a discussion of it was now inevitable.

"They're going to be hearing from us again," said Kathy Sarris, president of Indiana Equality, a gay rights group. "We're not going away."

The entire conversation was a significant and sudden pivot in this Capitol -- a place that was, just over a year ago, discussing whether to add a ban on same-sex marriage to the state Constitution.

Immediately after the news conference, lawmakers convened a conference committee of both chambers and began debating the issue. Republicans hold large majorities, with 71 of 100 House seats and 40 of 50 Senate seats.

Legislative leaders said they believed they had the votes to pass the measure swiftly. They said they had consulted with Gov. Mike Pence, a fellow Republican, in drafting the bill, but would not say that he would sign it.

On Wednesday, Asa Hutchinson, the Republican governor of Arkansas, said he would not sign a similar measure approved by the legislature there, after facing a similar backlash from business leaders, including Walmart.

The proposed addition in Indiana says that the measure "does not authorize a provider to refuse to offer or provide services, facilities, use of public accommodations, goods, employment, or housing to any member or members of the general public on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or United States military service. …

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