By Shane Nicholson
The under fire Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act is set to undergo changes to protect against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity according to The Indianapolis Star.
Lawmakers took advice and concerns from business owners and civic leaders after groups made their opposition to the law known since Gov. Mike Pence (R) signed it into effect last week.
Business, civic and sports leaders who have strongly called for a fix to the divisive “religious freedom” legislation flanked Indiana Republicans as they announced sexual orientation and gender identity will be explicitly protected in the new law…
Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, and House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis said at a press conference at the Statehouse that leaders will present the proposal to lawmakers at 9:30 a.m. after speaking with corporate and civic leadership this week.
“Hoosier hospitality had to be restored,” Bosma said.
Bosma apologized to the community for the damage sustained in the intense reaction to the law.
“Is the damage able to be turned back? That remains to be seen,” Bosma said.
The leaders referenced the intense backlash that rained down on Indiana after Gov. Mike Pence signed the bill last week.
“It was never intended to discriminate against anyone,” Long said. “That perception led to the national protests we’ve seen.”
Peterson said the words “gender identity” and “sexual orientation” will appear in state law in context of anti-discrimination for first time.
“The healing needs to begin right now,” said Peterson, an Eli Lilly and Co. executive.
Organizations, companies and even other state governments decried the new law as overstepping previous measures and legal professionals had pointed out that the law’s language explicitly targeted sexual orientation.
Lawmakers began discussing “a fix” to IRFRA as early as last Friday, just one day after Pence signed the legislation into effect. Today’s proposed changes to the law more align it with similar legislation in other states and the federal law passed in 1993.
Other states respond to backlash
Lawmakers in Arkansas have similarly been scrambling to change their own “religious freedom” bill currently moving toward finalization after the out lash against Indiana.
Arkansas-based retail giant Wal-Mart came out as a critic of the bill after it passed the state House.
First-term Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson said he wants the state “to be known as a state that does not discriminate but understands tolerance.”
Arkansas’s legislature approved language similar to that which took effect in Indiana on Tuesday. A petition to veto the bill was quickly organized and the state Senate Wednesday approved new language to placate the concerns of Gov. Hutchinson and business leaders.
“The issue has become divisive because our nation remains split on how to balance the diversity of our culture with the traditions and firmly held religious convictions,” Hutchinson said.
“It has divided families, and there is clearly a generational gap on this issue.”
A total of 14 other states are considering such legislation which has been spearheaded by GOP groups.
Bills in North Carolina and Georgia were put on hold this week, with Georgia’s stalling after a House member amended it to include anti-discrimination language.
North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) said in a statement earlier this week that a religious freedom bill in his state would “make no sense.”