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Pence: Is Balancing LGBT Rights-Religious Freedom Necessary?

At his State of the State Address on Tuesday night, Gov. Mike Pence (R) said he would not support any legislation that would take away Hoosiers’ right to religious freedoms.

"Hoosiers don’t tolerate discrimination while at the same time cherishing their faith," Pence said, reiterating a common refrain of his.

Pence said no one should be harassed or mistreated, “simply because of who they are, who they love, or what they believe.” But stressed the strong protections in Indiana’s Constitution regarding freedom of religion and conscience, delivering this guideline to lawmakers:

“I will not support any bill that diminishes the religious freedom of Hoosiers or interferes with the constitutional rights of our citizens to live out their beliefs in worship, service or work.”

The governor provided no other indication of legislative specifics on LGBT civil protections that he would either support or oppose.

LGBT advocates said Pence “shrugged his shoulders” and “backpedaled” on providing the LGBT community protection from discrimination.

“I think that I felt very unwelcome in my own state, a state that I was born and raised in, that I know people who’ve raised families, I have a family in,” said Rhiannon Carlson, an LGBT Hoosier veteran.

Many religious groups said Pence was properly cautious about the issue. But American Family Association of Indiana executive director Micah Clark said when it comes to trying to balance LGBT rights with religious freedom, he thinks Pence held up a caution sign to the legislature:

“Well I think he clearly indicated he would veto something that harms religious liberty and I think he hinted at the fact that these two are mutually exclusive," Clark said. "Many people have told him that.”

Senate Republicans have already proposed two versions of legislation seeking to balance civil rights protections for LGBT Hoosiers with religious liberty assurances.  And Senate Republican Leader David Long, (R-Fort Wayne) says he thinks those bills pass muster with Pence’s indication that he wouldn’t sign a bill that weakens religious freedom:

“But the issue of whether the governor has to stand out there and say ‘I’ll do this or I won’t do that,’ I don’t agree with that," said Long. "It’s very uncertain where this legislation is going."

Democrats lambasted Pence's position immediately following the address, accusing the governor of punting on the issue of LGBT rights.

Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane, (D-Anderson) says he’s astounded by Pence’s lack of leadership.

“It sent a message to me that he would be perfectly happy with us doing absolutely nothing,” said Lanane.

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