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LGBT Defenses Added to Embattled Indiana Law

INDIANAPOLIS (CN) - Indiana lawmakers approved changes Thursday to address concerns that a new religious-freedom law will allow businesses to discriminate against gay customers.

ESB 50 would add specific language to clarify that the Religious Restoration Freedom Act, which Gov. Mike Pence signed into law last week, cannot be used to refuse services to members of the public on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

"This chapter does not: authorize a provider to refuse to offer or provide services, facilities, use of public accommodations, goods, employment, or housing to any member or members of the general public on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or United States military service," the proposed changes state.

The changes do, however, still exempt churches, other nonprofit religious organizations or societies, and affiliated schools. The Indiana House approved the changes 66-30. Pence signed the bill Thursday night.

Shortly afterward, he issued the following statement: "Last weekend I called upon the Indiana General Assembly to clarify that this new judicial standard would not create a license to discriminate or to deny services to any individual as its critics have alleged. I am grateful for the efforts of legislators, business and other community leaders who came together to forge this clarifying language in the law."

Since the changes do not create new protected classes or special rights for any group, achieving their goal by restating the bill and its use, many lawmakers have said that the state still needs to protect the LGBT community in the state's civil rights laws.

"The healing needs to begin right now," Bart Peterson, former Democratic mayor of Indianapolis and Eli Lilly executive, said.

Indiana Speaker of the house Republican Brian Bosma also stressed that the bill still allows Hoosiers their day in court when they feel the government has infringed upon their religious freedoms.

Slated to take effect July 1, Indiana's new law has the stated goal of preventing government entity from substantially burdening a person's exercise of religion, unless the government can demonstrate a governmental interest and that it is taking the least restrictive means to achieve it.

Many perceived the language as vague and felt the bill could be used to discriminate against LGBT citizens, which caused a public outcry against the bill from the CEOs of Apple, Angie's List, and Walmart, the latter of which has also voiced opposition to a similar bill in Arkansas.

While talk of adding LGBT rights to the state's civil liberties laws swirled during Thursday morning's press conferences, that issue is unlikely to materialize into anything more substantial as the Indiana General Assembly's current session ends on April 29.

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