- Associated Press - Thursday, April 2, 2015

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Indiana Gov. Mike Pence urged residents to “move forward together” Thursday after signing off on revisions to a new religious objections law that had sparked criticism that it would allow discrimination against gays.

Lawmakers and business leaders worked together to craft an amendment that 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.

Many groups that had criticized the version of the law signed by Pence hailed the new language. But others said it was worse than the original and could lead to bigger problems.

“There will be some who think this legislation goes too far and some who think it does not go far enough,” Pence acknowledged in a statement after signing the amended legislation. “I believe resolving this controversy and making clear that every person feels welcome and respected in our state is best for Indiana.”

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SHOW OF SUPPORT

Two of Indiana’s largest business groups praised the changes.

Indiana Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Kevin Brinegar said Indiana “has suffered tremendously” during the past week’s uproar and that the new language is “what businesses and individuals from around the state, country and world needed to hear.”

Indy Chamber President and CEO Michael Huber called the changes “a major step in the right direction in efforts to protect the rights of all Hoosiers.”

And NCAA President Mark Emmert said the association was “very pleased” with the changes. The Indianapolis-based NCAA was among the first to express concern about the law when it was passed last week. The Final Four is being held in Indianapolis this weekend, and Emmert said the NCAA would consider moving future events out of state if the law wasn’t revised.

The women’s Final Four is scheduled to be held in Indianapolis next year.

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OPPONENTS BRISTLE

Opponents of the changes said they didn’t go far enough and could do more harm than good.

Democratic lawmakers called for a repeal of the law Thursday, urging lawmakers to start from scratch.

“I want to hear somebody say, ‘We made a grave mistake, and we caused the state tremendous embarrassment that will take months, if not years, to repair,’” House Minority Leader Scott Pelath said. “I want to hear one of the proponents ‘fess up, because the healing cannot begin until that happens.”

Consumer reporting agency Angie’s List, which announced it was putting a planned $40 million expansion on hold over the law, also called for a repeal.

“Employers in most of the state of Indiana can fire a person simply for being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning. That’s just not right and that’s the real issue here. Our employees deserve to live, work and travel with open accommodations in any part of the state,” said CEO Bill Oesterle.

Micah Clark of the American Family Association of Indiana said the Legislature’s actions didn’t clarify the law as Pence had requested but instead changed it in “a way that could now erode religious freedom across Indiana.”

“If this revised law does not adequately protect religious liberty for all, it is not really a religious freedom act,” Clark said.

Mark Rienzi, senior counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty in Washington, D.C., said the new language “carves up religious rights” and that the state would be better off if it adopted the language in the 1993 federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

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A GOOD FIRST STEP, BUT …

Many groups said the changes are a good first step but urged lawmakers to do more, including adding protections for sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s civil-rights law.

The American Civil Liberties Union said the changes have lessened the harm of the law but that “significant problems” still need to be addressed, including whether the law can be used to deny rights to others, including in education and access to health care.

The group’s state affiliate noted that the amendment marks the first time that Indiana law has included positive references to sexual orientation and gender identity. But it said statewide civil-rights protections are still needed.

Two gay rights groups, Freedom Indiana and Lambda Legal, also called for broader protections.

Freedom Indiana campaign manager Katie Blair said the changes “represent an important step forward” and reduce the threat to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents.

But she said that without statewide anti-discrimination laws for the LGBT community, “discrimination is still legal” in most of Indiana.

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