Gay marriage has been legal in Indiana since last October, when the Supreme Court declined to take up a challenge to a federal appeals court ruling. Indiana does not have a state law specifically protecting gay people from discrimination.
As The Washington Post pointed out over the weekend, the other 19 states that passed so-called religious freedom laws did so before gay marriage became legal in most of the country.
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Last February, then-Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona vetoed a similar law. "I sincerely believe that Senate Bill 1062 has the potential to create more problems than it purports to solve," she said at the time.
The backlash against the proposed law in Arizona was severe, and mirrors what is happening in Indiana. The NFL was even said to be considering moving the Super Bowl out of the state.
Social conservatives say that the law would stop the government from compelling people to do things they object to on religious grounds, like catering or providing flowers for a gay wedding.
Daniel O. Conkle, an Indiana University law professor who supports both the law and gay marriage, offered a defense in an essay for The Indianapolis Star.
Applying this test, a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that a Muslim prisoner was free to practice his faith by wearing a half-inch beard that posed no risk to prison security. Likewise, in a 2012 decision, a court ruled that the Pennsylvania RFRA protected the outreach ministry of a group of Philadelphia churches, ruling that the city could not bar them from feeding homeless individuals in the city parks.
Indiana Right to Life and the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List have also come out in support of the law.
Pence told The Indianapolis Star on Saturday that he was in talks with legislators and that a clarification could come this week. On Sunday, he gave a lengthy interview to ABC's "This Week" and defended the bill.
He said it was a "red herring" to suggest that the law is a license to discriminate. "This isn't about disputes between individuals; it's about government overreach," he said. "And I'm proud that Indiana stepped forward."
But he sidestepped direct questions on whether the law sanctions discrimination. George Stephanopoulos, the anchor, then asked him: "Yes or no, should it be legal to discriminate against gays and lesbians?"
George, you're — you're following the mantra of the last week online, and you're trying to make this issue about something else. What I am for is protecting, with the highest standards in our courts, the religious liberty of Hoosiers. I signed the bill. We're going to continue to explain it to people that don't understand it. And in — and if possible, we will find a way to amplify what this bill really is in a legislative process. But I stand by this law.