Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) said Saturday that he's in discussion with state lawmakers to clarify the state's controversial bill that would protect those who deny service because of religious beliefs -- known as a "religious freedom" law.
In an interview with the Indianapolis Star, Pence said he expected legislation to be introduced this week. He said making sexual orientation and gender identity a protected class was "not on his agenda," but did not provide any further details on what the legislation would include.
Clarifying the law would be a smart move for Pence. A majority of the public is opposed to businesses being allowed to refuse service to gays and lesbians (69 percent in a March 2013 Washington Post-ABC News poll), but when asked specifically about wedding-related businesses, a majority think they should -- although it's a smaller majority (57 percent in a January Associated Press GrK poll). Americans are uneasy with allowing people to be refused service because of their sexuality generally, but when there are specifics for certain religious reasons, more people are OK with it.
One of the major criticisms of so-called "religious freedom" bills is they're too broad and vague. In Georgia, a campaign against its bill focused on how it could be misused, like those accused of domestic violence using religious belief to justify their actions. And last year in Arizona, Gov. Jan Brewer (R) vetoed a similar bill, saying in a statement that its broad wording could have "unintended and negative consequences." Should Indiana lawmakers introduce a proposal that sets boundaries on their legislation, it could allay some of these worries.
Pence can also look to Utah, where Gov. Gary Herbert (R) signed legislation earlier this month protecting religious organizations and LGBT people. The bill protects people from housing and employment discrimination regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity, while also providing specific exemptions for religious organizations. Utah won praise of LGBT groups like the Human Rights Campaign and Equality Utah -- though social conservatives weren't very happy, because it doesn't exempt people like wedding bakers and photographers. But considering the backlash Pence has faced, it provides a possible blueprint for middle ground.
Indiana has become the new battleground over religious freedom legislation, and how Pence responds is an early sign of how it could play out in other states considering their own proposals. Setting boundaries on how far the state's legislation extends could be a smart move to win over critics -- if the needle can be threaded.