Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) on Sunday insisted that people on the Internet had conspired to create a “misunderstanding” that a so-called “religious freedom” law was about denying services to LGBT people. But at the same time, he repeatedly refused to answer if it effectively gave Christians a legal defense for discriminating against same-sex couples.
“I understand that there’s been a tremendous amount of misinformation and misunderstanding around this bill, and I’m just determined — and I appreciate the time on your program — I’m just determined to clarify this,” Pence told ABC’s George Stephanopolous.
“So this is a yes or no question,” the ABC host noted. “Is Advance America right when they say a florist in Indiana can now refuse to serve a gay couple without fear of punishment?”
Pence, however said that the purpose of the bill that he signed was to “empower” religious people.
And this was a pattern that would be repeated over the next 20 minutes: Stephanopolous asking if the bill allowed anti-LGBT discrimination, followed by Pence dodging the question.
“And so yes or no, if a florist in Indiana refuses to serve a gay couple at their wedding, is that legal now in Indiana?” Stephanopolous asked. “Yes or no?”
“This is where this debate has gone, with misinformation,” Pence replied. “There’s been shameless rhetoric about my state and about this law and about its intention all over the Internet. People are trying to make it about one particular issue. And now you’re doing that, as well.”
“That was one of your supporters who was talking about the bill right there,” Stephanopolous pressed. “It said it would protect a Christian florist who — against any kind of punishment. Is that true or not?”
“George, look, the issue here is, you know, is tolerance a two way street or not?” Pence opined. “I mean, you know, there’s a lot of talk about tolerance in this country today having to do with people on the left. But here Indiana, steps forward to protect the constitutional rights and privileges of freedom of religion for people of faith and families of faith in our state and this avalanche of intolerance that’s been poured on our state is just outrageous.”
“So when you say tolerance is a two way street, does that mean that Christians who want to refuse service or people of any other faith who want to refuse service to gays and lesbians, that it’s now legal in the state of Indiana?” the ABC host tried again.
And again, Pence deflected: “I’m telling you, George, it is a red herring and I think it’s deeply troubling to millions of Americans and, frankly, people all across the state of Indiana who feel troubled about government overreach.”
The Indiana governor added that he had no plans to add protections for LGBT people to the state’s civil rights laws. But officials had been “been doing our level best, George, to correct the gross mischaracterization of this law that has been spread all over the country by many in the media.”
“I mean, frankly, some of the media coverage of this has been shameless and reckless,” he insisted. “The online attacks against the people of our state, I’m just not going to stand for it.”
Pence said that he would be open to a bill that “amplifies” the current law, but “we’re not going to change this law.”
“A final question, a final yes or no question, Governor,” Stephanopolous pushed. “Do you think it should be legal in the state of Indiana to discriminate against gays or lesbians?”
“It’s a yes or no question,” the host added.
“Hoosiers don’t believe in discrimination,” Pence insisted. “I mean this is not about discrimination. This is about protecting the religious liberty of every Hoosier of every faith.”
“We’re going to continue to explain it to people that don’t understand it. And in — and if possible, we will find a way to amplify what this bill really is in a legislative process. But I stand by this law,” he concluded. “I’m proud that Indiana has adopted the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.”