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Indiana tries to quell controversy over 'religious freedom' law

The US state of Indiana has come under fire this week for a law activists say promotes discrimination based on sexuality. Despite the intense backlash, other states are considering similar legislation.

Indiana Republicans vowed late Monday to clarify a new "religious freedom" law, while similar proposals were halted in Georgia and North Carolina after businesses and activists said such statues could be used to discriminate against homosexuals.

Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act, signed by Governor Mike Pence (pictured above) last week, goes further than similar measures passed in 19 other states, giving businesses the right to refuse services on religious grounds. Gay rights activists say Republicans pushed the law through in response to gay marriage becoming legal in Indiana last year.

Pence defended the law, which takes effect July 1, in an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal on Monday, writing that it was "grossly misconstrued" and not "a license to discriminate." The language of the law does not mention gays or lesbians.

The measure was rebuked not only by activists but also by powerful companies, such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and

Apple Inc.'s CEO, Tim Cook,

the most prominent chief executive to acknowledge his homosexuality.

Cook condemned the law in a Washington Post article on Sunday, saying it would "rationalize injustice" and compared it to the era of racial segregation.

Criticism from all sides

The law drew criticism even from within Governor Pence's own party. Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, also a Republican, slammed the measure, arguing that it would slow economic growth in the capital and damage the city's reputation as a destination for conventions and tourism.

Consumer reporting agency Angie's List canceled expansion plans in the capital because of the statute, a $40 million dollar project that would have created 1,000 local jobs.

Well-known rock band Wilco, based in nearby Chicago, also announced it was canceling a May 7 show in Indianapolis to protest the "thinly disguised legal discrimination."

Boycotting Indiana

The state of Connecticut became the first to call a boycott over the law, with Governor Dan Malloy signing an executive order on Monday barring state-funded travel to Indiana. Cities such as Seattle and San Francisco have also enacted similar bans.

Pence said he would not push for a nondiscrimination bill to counteract a possible negative impact of the law, but that he was open to the state General Assembly adding a section that clarifies the law.

State Senate President Pro Tem David Long said the legislature was "more than willing" to clarify the language of the law to show that it did not allow for open discrimination against homosexuals.

The fight over what constitutes discrimination and religious freedom will now move to Arkansas, where a final vote on a law like Indiana's could come as soon as Tuesday.

es/lw (AFP, Reuters, AP)

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