IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

The question Indiana's Pence won't, or can't, answer

It was a simple yes-or-no question about discrimination. Indiana Gov. Mike Pence's response told Americans something important about the broader debate.
In this Jan. 27, 2015 file photo, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence pauses during a speech in Indianapolis, Ind. (Photo by Michael Conroy/AP)
In this Jan. 27, 2015 file photo, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence pauses during a speech in Indianapolis, Ind.
If Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) was looking for a way to raise his national visibility in advance of a possible presidential candidate, his new right-to-discriminate law, if nothing else, has given him the national spotlight.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence on Sunday defended his decision to sign a religious freedom bill into law, saying that it was "absolutely not" a mistake. In an interview on ABC's "This Week" the Republican governor repeatedly dodged questions on whether the law would legally allow people of Indiana to refuse service to gay and lesbians, saying that residents of the state are "nice" and don't discriminate and that "this is about protecting the religious liberty of people of faith and families of faith."

The interview between the Republican governor and ABC's George Stephanopoulos featured an extraordinary exchange that matters quite a bit. The host noted, for example, that one of Pence's own allies said the new state law is intended to "protect those who oppose gay marriage," leading Stephanopoulos to ask whether a "florist in Indiana can now refuse to serve a gay couple without fear of punishment?"
The governor replied, "This is not about discrimination," which wasn't an answer. So, Stephanopoulos asked again, "Yes or no, if a florist in Indiana refuses to serve a gay couple at their wedding, is that legal now in Indiana?" Pence dodged again.
To his credit, the host pressed on, and again the governor wouldn't answer. Which led to Stephanopoulos' fourth effort: "So when you say tolerance is a two way street, does that mean that Christians who want to refuse service ... to gays and lesbians, that it's now legal in the state of Indiana? That's the simple yes-or-no question."
Once more, the GOP governor simply wouldn't, or couldn't answer.
It was a cringe-worthy display. I'm not even sure why Pence agreed to do the interview in the first place -- the Indiana Republican had to know the question was coming, but the governor was visibly stuck, refusing to respond to the most obvious element of the entire debate.
And while Pence struggles to defend a pro-discrimination statute, the backlash to the conservative law has intensified in recent days.

Angie's List, an online concierge to find companies to perform various household maintenance, announced Saturday it was halting a planned expansion to its campus in Indianapolis over the new law, according to CEO Bill Oesterle.

This coincided with protests at the Indiana Capitol, on top of concerns raised by a wide variety of national businesses, groups, and leaders. A Washington Post op-ed from Apple CEO Tim Cook this morning raises the stakes further.
The governor said Saturday he'll "support the introduction of legislation to 'clarify'" that the Indiana law "does not promote discrimination against gays and lesbians" -- an effort that's no doubt intended to calm the waters -- but Pence added yesterday during the ABC interview, "Look, we're not going to change the law, OK?"
Actually, no, it may not be "OK" with opponents of discrimination that Pence intends to leave the new law intact.
* Postscript: One man claiming to be an Indiana business owner says he's already begun discriminating against gay customers, taking advantage of the new law, but the man's story has not been corroborated.