Indiana Gov. Mike Pence is set to sign into law a measure that allows businesses to turn away gay and lesbian customers in the name of “religious freedom.”
The move comes as Pence considers a bid for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination — and just a year after Pence and socially conservative lawmakers lost their first policy battle against gay Hoosiers. In 2014 they had sought to amend Indiana’s constitution to ban same-sex marriages — but were beaten back by a highly-organized coalition of Democrats, traditionally right-leaning business organizations and fiscally focused supporters of Pence’s predecessor, former GOP Gov. Mitch Daniels.
This year, though, the Republican-dominated state House and Senate both approved the “religious freedom” bill, and Pence plans to sign it into law in a private ceremony Thursday, his spokeswoman confirmed Wednesday afternoon.
If Pence decides to mount a dark horse presidential bid — which looks increasingly unlikely as candidates like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker court the same supporters he would need — the “religious freedom” bill could give him a boost among GOP primary voters, especially in socially conservative states like Iowa.
But it could also badly damage his prospects in a general election, where polls have shown that voters increasingly oppose policies that discriminate against gays and lesbians.
In a statement, Pence said the bill “is about respecting and reassuring Hoosiers that their religious freedoms are intact. I strongly support the legislation and applaud the members of the General Assembly for their work on this important issue.”
Proponents have argued the bill doesn’t target gays and lesbians specifically — but that it does protect businesses that don’t support same-sex marriage from having to provide services for those ceremonies.
Other states have passed similar laws. Eighteen others have similar measures on the books, and social conservatives have been re-energized in their push for “religious freedom” laws after the Supreme Court’s decision in a health care-related case that allowed Hobby Lobby and other businesses to opt not to provide insurance coverage for contraception.
Also fueling the push: The Supreme Court’s expected ruling in June on whether same-sex marriage is constitutionally protected and therefore legal in all 50 states.
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