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Indiana Gov. Mike Pence on Tuesday called for a quick change to his state’s new Religious Freedom law that had drawna storm of criticism from businesses, celebrities and activists.
Pence defended the law in a nationally televised news conference—saying that he was “pleased” to have signed the bill, and that it was not discriminatory—but admitted that he thought a clarification was in order within the week.
“After much reflection and in consultation with the leadership of the General Assembly, I’ve come to the conclusion that it will be helpful to move legislation this week that makes it clear that this law does not give businesses a right to deny services to anyone,” he said.
The governor admitted that what he is calling for was both a clarification and a “fix.”
“This law does not give anyone a license to deny services to gay and lesbian couples,” the governor said, saying that any addition would be consistent with what the state’s General Assembly had intended.
Still, a change would help clarify that intention, he said.
“I think it would be helpful, and I’d like to see on my desk by the end of this week, legislation that is added to the religious freedom restoration act in Indiana that makes it clear that this law does not give businesses the right to deny services to anyone,” he said.
Some noted Tuesday that the governor’s call for legislation clarifying the state is not giving businesses the right to discriminate, is not necessarily the same thing as a new law offering protection to certain groups.
“We will review whatever changes come across with an open mind but we’ve got a serious perception problem in the state that’s impacting our state and our city and any solution has got to remove all doubt that individuals can be discriminated against or it’s just not going to work,” said Michael Huber, CEO of the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce.
Pence said he was “taken aback” by the backlash against the law, which some have charged would sanction discrimination under the auspices of religious freedom. He blamed “sloppy reporting” and “grossly mischaracterized” descriptions of the bill for the uproar in recent days.
Not everyone agreed with the governor’s depiction of recent events.
“When [Pence] says the bill has been mischaracterized, it has been mischaracterized up to an extent, but parts of it have been accurately characterized as well,” Huber said.
The speaker of the Indiana House of Representatives, Brian Bosma, made a pledge to legislatively fix the state’s contested religious freedom law by making it clear that it does not condone discrimination.
“The bill does no such thing to allow discrimination,” he told CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street” on Tuesday. “We have to address the perception and here is my pledge—we’re going to have a legislative fix that makes it crystal clear that gays and lesbians cannot be discriminated against in Indiana.”
Bosma wrote an op-ed in USA Today on Tuesday to assure the public that the law would include language that makes the intent clear that no member of the general public can be denied goods or services.
“We need to get that misperception off the books entirely and that’s what we’re working on in a very fast fashion,” he told CNBC. “The best thing to do here is to fix it, draw that discussion to a close and move forward.”