INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana Republicans moved rapidly Thursday to amend the state’s controversial religious freedom law by adding a provision that explicitly prohibits business owners from denying services to gay and lesbian patrons.
The amendment, unveiled Thursday morning at the Indiana Statehouse, was later approved by lawmakers and signed into law by Gov. Mike Pence (R). It grants protections to employees, tenants and customers regardless of race, religion, disability or sexual orientation. The fix does not apply to churches or church-affiliated schools.
Pence had demanded a fix during a news conference this week after the initial law provoked widespread protests.
In signing the revised bill, Pence continued to argue that there had been a misunderstanding about the bill’s intent.
“Over the past week this law has become a subject of great misunderstanding and controversy across our state and nation,” he said in a statement Thursday evening. “However we got here, we are where we are, and it is important that our state take action to address the concerns that have been raised and move forward.”
“Indiana does not tolerate discrimination against any class of Hoosier,” said state House Speaker Brian Bosma (R). He defended the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, saying it had been misinterpreted as a vehicle of exclusion.
“The perception had to be addressed. Hoosier hospitality had to be restored,” he said. “We are sorry that misinterpretation hurt so many people.”
A similar scramble was underway Thursday in Arkansas, where Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) signed a revised version of a religious liberties bill that had drawn similar blowback, prompting him to call for revisions. The bill he signed Thursday makes it harder for businesses to use religion to justify denying services to gays.
Originally, both measures were designed to give businesses and individuals legal protections against claims of discrimination. They immediately drew heavy fire not only from gay rights activists but also from a wide range of large companies, including Apple, Levi’s, the Gap, Angie’s List, Eli Lilly, Twitter and Yelp.
In Indiana, several entertainers canceled concerts. And the NCAA, the powerful collegiate sports organization that is headquartered in Indianapolis and is hosting the men’s basketball Final Four there this weekend, threatened to relocate future events.
Soon after Indiana lawmakers announced the proposed amendment, NCAA President Mark Emmert praised the move. “We are very pleased the Indiana legislature is taking action to amend Senate Bill 101 so that it is clear individuals cannot be discriminated against,” he said.
Not everyone was happy with the proposed changes, however, and activists on both sides of the issue condemned them. Bill Oesterle, chief executive of Angie’s List, called the fix “insufficient.” A spokeswoman said a planned expansion of the company’s Indianapolis headquarters was still on hold.
Kristen Waggoner, senior counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative legal aid group, said in a statement that the proposed amendment “unjustly deprives citizens of their day in court, denies freedom a fair hearing, and rigs the system.”
Gay rights advocates, meanwhile, carved out a middle ground, calling the changes a good “first step.”
Wesley Lowery in Washington contributed to this report.