US & Canada

Indiana governor says he wants to 'fix' religion law

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Media captionIndiana residents say it's been an embarrassment

The governor of Indiana has said that he wants state lawmakers to "fix" a religious freedom law that has created a national outcry.

Critics of the law say it could be used to discriminate against gays and lesbians.

Governor Mike Pence said he wanted state lawmakers to add language to the law that clarifies its intentions, by the end of the week.

"This is a clarification, but it's also a fix," he said.

He stressed that the controversy was the result of a "perception problem" not lawmakers' desire to discriminate.

Under the law, the state can only infringe on a person's religious beliefs when it has a compelling interest, but it must do so in the least intrusive way possible. It defines "person" to included religious institutions, businesses and associations.

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Image caption Pence is on the defensive

The governor, who signed the bill into law last week, went on the attack after a number of famous names, corporations and sporting institutions warned that business owners now had a licence to discriminate against gays and lesbians.

Mr Pence said he "was proud to sign" the bill, but that he believes "it would be appropriate to make it clear that this law does not give businesses a right to deny services to anyone".

"I don't support discrimination against gays or lesbians or anyone else. I abhor discrimination," he said.

At the scene - Aleem Maqbool, BBC News, Indianapolis

"I could have handled it better," said Governor Pence after what he admitted had been a "tough week".

But with the humility came the insistence, time and again, that the backlash he had faced was because the media had misrepresented him and the law.

He insists that he did the right thing in signing the Religious Freedoms Act.

Those we have been speaking to on the streets of Indianapolis appeared to feel very differently, invariably saying they did not see the need for the bill and that they were embarrassed by the negative attention it had brought to the state and the damage it had done to Indiana's reputation.

Gay rights groups are calling on Indiana lawmakers to update their civil rights laws to specifically include protections for gay and transgender people.

Mr Pence said he doesn't support the extra protections and insisted that they are a separate issue.

"Fair-minded people across his state are demanding that those protections get on his agenda, immediately," Chad Griffin, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, said.

Critics believe it provides a way for opponents of gay marriage, which became legal in Indiana last year, to continue their opposition by other means.

A chorus of criticism has been growing for nearly a week, and the backlash has made allies of Hillary Clinton and Miley Cyrus, and Angie's List and Apple.

Image copyright Indianapolis Star
Image caption The front page of the Indianapolis Star on Tuesday features a full page editorial

In recent days the governors of Connecticut, Washington state, and New York have banned state-funded travel to Indiana and other states that simultaneously have RFRA measures and no balancing law to protect gays and lesbians from discrimination.

"When it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's a duck," Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy told MSNBC's Morning Joe programme explaining his decision. "They knew what they were doing and what they were doing was deciding that they were going to make it legal to refuse to serve gay men and women."

On Tuesday, the Indianapolis Star ran a full, front page editorial calling on state leaders to enact protections for gays and transgendered people.

Many businesses across the state have posted placards and stickers saying they serve everyone, and the official tourism site for Indianapolis - the state's capital - features a rainbow graphic and a "LGBT guide to Indy".

Over the weekend, Mr Pence repeatedly refused to answer direct questions about how the law might be used against gay people in a nationally televised interview.

Referring to that interview Mr Pence said on Tuesday, "I could have handled that better this weekend."

Despite the national outcry, Arkansas is set enact a similar measure as early as Tuesday. Unlike leaders in Indiana, Arkansas lawmakers said they will not modify their bill.

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