Indiana governor signs updated religious freedom law

Last Updated Apr 2, 2015 6:28 PM EDT

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence has signed an amended version of Indiana's controversial religious freedom law, which now states the law cannot be used to discriminate against anyone, including gay and lesbian customers who feared the original law would allow businesses to deny them service.

"Over the past week this law has become a subject of great misunderstanding and controversy across our state and nation. However we got here, we are where we are, and it is important that our state take action to address the concerns that have been raised and move forward," Pence said in a statement. "There will be some who think this legislation goes too far and some who think it does not go far enough, but as governor I must always put the interest of our state first and ask myself every day, 'What is best for Indiana?' I believe resolving this controversy and making clear that every person feels welcome and respected in our state is best for Indiana."

The compromise was announced Thursday morning by Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate President Pro Tem David Long, who were accompanied by business leaders from around the state. The Indiana Senate passed the language on a vote of 34 to 16, following an earlier House vote where it was approved by a vote of 66 to 30.

"Hoosier hospitality had to be restored," Bosma said Thursday morning.

Long said the revisions will "unequivocably state that Indiana's law does not and will not be able to discriminate against anyone, anywhere at any time."

The language in the legislation states that the law does not, "Authorize a provider to refuse to offer or provide services, facilities, use of public accommodations, goods, employment, or housing to any member or members of the general public based on race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or United States military service."

The references to "sexual orientation" or "gender identity" are the first to appear in an Indiana law.

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act has been under fire since Pence signed the original version into law earlier this month. While supporters say the law ensures the government can't infringe on how they exercise their religious beliefs, opponents argue it gives individuals and businesses carte blanche to discriminate against gays and lesbians.

Earlier in the week, Pence asked state lawmakers to clarify the law to make it clear that it does not give businesses a license to deny service to gay and lesbian citizens. He defended the law, but said it had been "grossly mischaracterized" by the opponents and the national media.

He was also facing a barrage of criticism from business leaders around the state. The Indianapolis-based company Angie's List put a $40 million expansion project on hold, and Apple CEO Tim Cook authored an op-ed in the Washington Post, in which he wrote, "on behalf of Apple, I'm standing up to oppose this new wave of legislation -- wherever it emerges. I'm writing in the hopes that many more will join this movement. From North Carolina to Nevada, these bills under consideration truly will hurt jobs, growth and the economic vibrancy of parts of the country where a 21st-century economy was once welcomed with open arms."

Some in the business community and other national groups welcomed the change.

"We are very pleased the Indiana legislature is taking action to amend Senate Bill 101 so that it is clear individuals cannot be discriminated against," NCAA President Mark Emmert said in a statement. "NCAA core values call for an environment that is inclusive and non-discriminatory for our student-athletes, membership, fans, staff and their families. We look forward to the amended bill being passed quickly and signed into law expeditiously by the governor."

But for others, including Angie's List, the modifications aren't enough.

"Our position is that this 'fix' is insufficient," Angie's List CEO Bill Oesterle said in a statement Thursday. "There was no repeal of RFRA and no end to discrimination of homosexuals in Indiana. Employers in most of the state of Indiana can fire a person simply for being Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender or Questioning. That's just not right and that's the real issue here. Our employees deserve to live, work and travel with open accommodations, in any part of the state."

As the controversy unfolded, Democrats had called for a full repeal.

"The most clear, decisive and understandable thing we can do is to repeal the statue and repeal it promptly. Once that is done we have a foundation and a beginning to repair the state's image. Reparing the state's image will entail putting new provisions into the law to make clear that everyone in Indiana is treated fairly and equally," Democratic House Minority Leader Scott Pelath said in a press conference later Tuesday. "That may be a tough remedy for the governor and the legislators to accept, but they must accept it."

Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lenane similarly called for a "bold" move by the state, recalling the disapproving reaction from the business community.

"They clearly see something in this bill which is very, very toxic and very, very wrong. They do think that unfortunately this bill sends a terrible message about what's going on in the state of Indiana," he said.

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.