WASHINGTON -- Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) refused to say on Sunday whether it should be illegal under state law to discriminate against gays and lesbians.
Pence appeared on ABC's "This Week" to defend his decision to sign a controversial piece of legislation intended to protect religious liberties that critics say will enable discrimination in the state. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act would allow individuals and corporations to cite religious beliefs in private litigation. Pence's decision to sign the bill into law has sparked backlash against the state.
In the interview, Pence dodged a question from George Stephanopoulos about whether the law would allow florists and bakers to deny their wedding services to gay couples by citing their religious beliefs. He also twice dodged a yes-or-no question on whether he believed it should be legal to discriminate against gays and lesbians under state law.
Pence defended his decision to sign the legislation, saying it was "absolutely not" a mistake to sign the law.
"If the general assembly in Indiana sends me a bill that adds a section that reiterates and amplifies and clarifies what the law really is and what it has been for the last 20 years, then I'm open to that," the governor said. "But we're -- we're not going to change this law."
He said there has been misinformation about the law and insisted it was intended to protect religious liberty.
"This is not about discrimination," Pence said, adding that tolerance is "a two-way street" and that there had been a lot of "shameless rhetoric" against the state law.
Pence said earlier this weekend that passing legislation to protect the rights of gays and lesbians is "not on my agenda."
UPDATE: 6:17 p.m. -- The pro-LGBT group Lambda Legal put out a statement after Pence's ABC appearance, fact-checking several of the governor's statements and calling on him to support LGBT protections. From Jennifer Pizer, national director of Lambda Legal's Law and Policy Project:
If Governor Pence meant it when he said that SB101 isn’t intended to allow discrimination against LGBT people, then why were amendments designed to make that explicit repeatedly rejected during the legislative process? If he truly means what he says, then he and the legislature should work together to add this language: 'This chapter does not establish or eliminate a defense to a claim under any federal, state or local law protecting civil rights or preventing discrimination.' And the Indiana government should include gay and transgender people within Indiana’s protections from discrimination.
Read the group's full press release here.
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