INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana lawmakers on Thursday announced proposed changes to a religious-objections law that provoked a national outcry over concerns it would allow discrimination against gays.
The amendment prohibits service providers from using the law as a legal defense for refusing to provide services, goods, facilities or accommodations. It also bars discrimination based on race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or U.S. military service.
The measure exempts churches and affiliated schools, along with nonprofit religious organizations.
Although the law passed last week did not specifically mention gays and lesbians, opponents said the language could offer a legal defense to businesses and other institutions that refuse to serve gays, such as caterers, florists or photographers with religious objections to same-sex marriage.
Supporters insist the law will only give religious objectors a chance to bring their case before a judge.
Indiana’s revisions still require approval from the full Legislature and Republican Gov. Mike Pence, who had asked for the changes.
Facing an outcry similar to the one in Indiana, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson called on the Arkansas Legislature to change the measure he had once said he would sign into law.
A proposal approved Wednesday night by the Arkansas Senate addresses only actions by the government, not by businesses or individuals. Supporters of the amended version said the change means businesses denying services to someone on religious grounds could not use the law as a defense.
House leaders hoped to give final approval Thursday to the bill.
Hutchinson has faced pressure from the state’s largest employers, including retail giant Wal-Mart. Hutchinson noted that his own son, Seth, had signed a petition urging him to veto the bill.
Meanwhile, the governor of Arkansas backed away Wednesday from his promise to sign a controversial religious-objections bill, bowing to pressure from critics that included his own son and some of the state’s biggest employers, who say the legislation is anti-gay.
Hutchinson, a Republican, said he wants the Legislature either to recall the bill from his desk or pass a follow-up measure that would make the proposal more closely mirror a federal religious-freedom law. Arkansas lawmakers moved quickly to advance a new version aimed at addressing the governor’s concerns.
Hutchinson initially supported the bill, and on Tuesday, his office said he planned to sign it into law. But a day later, his position had changed.
Neither the Indiana nor Arkansas law specifically mentions gays and lesbians, but opponents are concerned that the language contained in them could offer a legal defense to businesses and other institutions that refuse to serve gays, such as caterers, florists or photographers with religious objections to same-sex marriage.
Similar proposals have been introduced this year in more than a dozen states, patterned after the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, with some differences. Indiana and 19 other states have similar laws on the books.
Story by the Associated Press.