BATTLING BACKLASH

Two Columbus legislators said they will work with fellow Republicans to provide clarification that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act doesn’t discriminate against the gay and lesbian community.

Rep. Milo Smith, R-Columbus, who sponsored the bill, and Sen. Greg. Walker, R-Columbus, who co-authored it, said they were planning to meet with other Republicans on Monday in caucus to determine what clarifying language can be placed in another bill still pending in the Statehouse.

Smith said legislators need to find some language that makes it clear the act does not allow Indiana businesses to refuse service to the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community or to same-sex couples.

“People just aren’t hearing that,” said Smith, who described himself as frustrated over the confusion.

Walker told about 50 people participating Monday morning in the Third House legislative session at Columbus City Hall that he was caught off guard by backlash against the bill and re-read it three times looking for fears or concerns about what the bill does.

The bill’s language doesn’t match the concerns, he said. However, Walker said he was willing to look at ideas and consider language that would ensure that Indiana and the bill are not what is being portrayed.

“This bill is not about discrimination,” he said.

Smith said Republicans would have to find another bill to add clarifying language to redefine the meaning of Religious Freedom act, and he was considering Senate Bill 233, dubbed the “Merry Christmas” bill.

That bill proposes to allow Indiana public schools to celebrate Christmas, although Smith said schools could use it to celebrate Hanukkah or a Muslim holiday, for example.

Resident reaction

Columbus resident Sharon Krieg told Smith and Walker she thought the legislation was bad from the beginning and that it does provide an opening for discrimination.

Pointing out that Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, in a nationally televised interview Sunday, failed to answer “yes” or “no” whether the bill discriminates against the LGBT community, Krieg said the bill gives Indiana “a black eye.”

Regarding suggestions to consider adding sexual orientation as a protected class under state civil rights laws, Smith replied: “If we start defining protected class, shouldn’t it be all Hoosiers?”

After the Third House session, Walker said he believed LGBT as a protected classes needed to be considered at the federal level.

At nearly the same time Smith and Walker were meeting with constituents in Columbus, Republican House and Senate leaders in Indianapolis also were talking about clarifying the bill’s intent.

Statehouse leaders weigh in

Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said such laws, approved in 19 states, have never been used to discriminate.

However, Speaker of the House Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said legislators would be looking at all options to clarify the intent of the bill.

Senate Minority Floor Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, released a statement that he was grateful that clarifications to the bill were being considered and that Pence had realized that.

“He’s come to realize what business leaders and everyday Hoosiers from across our state knew all along — this divisive act has no place in Indiana,” he said.

Lanane added that legislative tweaks are not enough and Statehouse Democrats would seek a full repeal of “this hateful law.”

Protests against legislation

More than 50 people gathered March 25 near the Bartholomew County Courthouse to protest the bill.

In Indianapolis on Saturday, several thousand people marched from Monument Circle downtown to the Statehouse, chanting “No hate in our state.”

Cummins spokesman Jon Mills said the legislation would damage Indiana’s reputation as a welcoming state and runs counter to Cummins’ core values of respecting diversity.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.