Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) on Sunday defended the religious-freedom bill that he signed last week, saying the growing outrage over the legislation stems from “a tremendous amount of misinformation and misunderstanding.”
Critics of the new law say it gives businesses a license to discriminate against gays by denying them service. They have called for a boycott of the NCAA’s Final Four basketball tournament in Indianapolis as a response to the measure.
Asked on ABC’s “This Week” about whether businesses could refuse service to gay people under the new law, Pence repeatedly said the question was beside the point.
“This isn’t about disputes between individuals,” he said. “It’s about government overreach, and I’m proud that Indiana stepped forward, and I’m working hard to clarify this.”
The governor also said the law protects “individuals when they believe that actions of government impinge on their constitutional First Amendment freedom of religion.”
Pence added that the measure would apply only to disputes between individuals when government action is involved. He said similar laws for the federal government and more than a dozen states has never been used to undermine anti-discrimination laws.
The governor said he expects additional legislation this week to clarify the intent of the law.
One idea under consideration is a proposal to add sexual orientation as a protected class under the state’s civil rights laws.
“I will not push for that,” Pence said. “That’s not on my agenda, and that’s not been an objective of the people of the state of Indiana.”
Host George Stephanopoulos ended the interview by asking for a yes or no answer on whether it should be legal to discriminate against gays and lesbians.
“You’re following the mantra of the last week online, and you’re trying to make this issue about something else,” Pence said. “What I am for is protecting … the religious liberty of Hoosiers.”
White House press secretary Josh Earnest criticized the governor during a follow-up interview on the show.
"It should be easy for leaders in this country to stand up and say that it is wrong to discriminate against people just because of who they love," he said. "Governor Pence is in damage-control mode this morning, and he has some damage to fix.”