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Democrats want repeal of Indiana’s religious freedom law; White House weighs in on RFRA

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INDIANAPOLIS (March 31, 2015) – Indiana Democratic leaders—and the White House—responded Tuesday to the ongoing controversy surrounding Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act and Gov. Mike Pence’s call for legislation to “clarify” the law.

Speaking at the Statehouse Tuesday afternoon, House Minority Leader Scott Pelath (D-Michigan City) and Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane (D-Anderson) called for a repeal of the law.

Both said RFRA has had a negative impact on the state’s image and expressed concerns about the potential economic fallout.

“Look at the corporations, the multi-national corporations that have looked at the bill (Cummins, Eli Lilly, NCAA)… and they clearly see something in this bill that’s very toxic and very, very wrong,” Lanane said.

He said the debate has shifted from a focus on the bill to whether the Hoosier State discriminates.

“We know the people of Indiana do not discriminate. We need to put that into law. We need to make a bold statement.”

Pelath warned against taking a rushed approach to fixing the problem.

“Right now if they’re going to take a Band-Aid approach, there’s not a lot of confidence that they’re going to get it right,” he said. “The only practical solution is to repeal the whole thing.”

He called for a solution that was “clear, decisive and understandable.” Pelath suggested that Pence can’t reconcile the interests of the bill’s advocates with the interests of those who oppose it. Both called for lawmakers to amend the state’s civil rights act to mandate clear protections for gays and lesbians.

“The governor and the rest of us have a duty to put it in writing to make it illegal to discriminate against any person on the basis of sexual orientation,” Lanane said.

Pelath accused Republicans of “slapping away” proposed bipartisan amendments that would’ve contained the national outcry over the bill. Still, he’s hoping to come up with a workable solution.

“We live here and we love it. And because we love it, we’ve got to fix it,” Pelath said.

The White House weighed in on the controversy Tuesday with some of its strongest response to the law.

“The kind of public outcry that we’ve seen in response to the signing of the law, I think, is indicative of how this piece of legislation flies in the face of the kinds of values that people all across the country strongly support,” said Josh Earnest, White House press secretary.

Earnest took Pence to task for how he portrayed Indiana’s law.

“I know Gov. Pence has been trying to falsely suggest that the law that was signed in Indiana is the same as the law that was passed on the federal level in 1993. That is not true,” Earnest said.

“The Indiana law is much broader,” he continued. “It doesn’t just apply to individuals or religious minorities and I’m quoting here, ‘a partnership, a limited liability company, a corporation, a company, a firm, a society, a joint stock company, or an unincorporated association.’ This is obviously a significant expansion of the law in terms of the way it would apply.”

Earnest suggested the broad nature of the law could open the door to discrimination based on sexual orientation, which has been the target of the national uproar.

Pence said he wants lawmakers to come up with new legislation by the end of the week.

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