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Arkansas passes religious-objections law

Associated Press

Indianapolis — Indiana Gov. Mike Pence said Tuesday that he wants legislation on his desk by the end of the week to clarify that the state’s new religious-freedom law does not allow discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Meanwhile in Arkansas, lawmakers defied criticism and followed Indiana’s lead to pass a similar law. It now goes to Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who has said he will sign it into law.

Pence defended the Indiana measure as a vehicle to protect religious liberty but said he has been meeting with lawmakers “around the clock” to address concerns that it would allow businesses to deny services to gay customers.

The governor said he does not believe “for a minute” that lawmakers intended “to create a license to discriminate.”

“It certainly wasn’t my intent,” said Pence, who signed the law last week.

But, he said, he “can appreciate that that’s become the perception, not just here in Indiana but all across the country. We need to confront that.”

The Indiana law prohibits any laws that “substantially burden” a person’s ability to follow his or her religious beliefs. The definition of “person” includes religious institutions, businesses and associations.

Although the legal language does not specifically mention gays and lesbians, critics say the law is designed to protect businesses and individuals who do not want to serve gays and lesbians.

In Washington, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Indiana officials appeared to be in “damage-control mode” following an uproar over the law.

Earnest also took issue with Pence’s claim that Indiana’s law was rooted in a 1993 federal law. He said the Indiana measure marked a “significant expansion” over that law because it applies to private transactions beyond those involving the federal government.

Connecticut’s governor also blasted Pence, telling MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that the measure covers “outright bigotry.”

“If you get the picture from who was around him when he signed this bill, there were three homophobic men standing alongside the governor,” Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said. “One of them who equated being gay with bestiality. That’s who he invited to the signing ceremony. He knew exactly what he was doing, and when you see a bigot you have to call him on it.”

The Arkansas proposal would prohibit state and local governments from infringing on a person’s religious beliefs without a “compelling” reason.

Over the past two days, hundreds of protesters filled Arkansas’ Capitol to oppose the measure.

Similar proposals have been introduced in more than a dozen states.