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DEFEAT: Indiana Republicans Totally Cave On Religious Freedom Law

Religious freedom advocates appear to have lost the fight in Indiana.

Indiana’s top two Republicans announced at a press conference Thursday that the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which incited national uproar from critics calling it discriminatory, will be updated to explicitly protect gay people from discrimination, The Indy Star reports. The new language will prevent RFRA from being used broadly to discriminate against gay people and may make it more difficult for businesses like florists and bakers to argue a burden on their religion.

The update still requires a vote from the legislature and signature from the governor, but the public commitment from the state’s top two Republican lawmakers, House Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate President Pro Tem David Long, indicates the measure has a good chance of passing.

The update ensures that the previously passed RFRA “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 on the basis of….sex, sexual orientation, gender identity…”

The new update also notes that religious institutions and religious figures such as priests and rabbis are exempt from the nondiscrimination safeguard, so they will still be able to refuse service.

“What was intended as a message of inclusion was interpreted as a message of exclusion, especially for the LGBT community,” Bosma told reporters at the press conference. “Nothing could have been further from the truth, but it was clear the perception had to be addressed.”

Advance America, a conservative group that lobbied for the original RFRA, said in a blog post that the update would destroy the law.

“Among the things that will happen, Christian bakers, florists and photographers would now be forced by the government to participate in a homosexual wedding or else they would be punished by the government!” the group said.

Other groups applauded 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.”

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence had vowed to “fix” the law and asked the state’s legislature to have something on his desk by the end of the week.

The decision comes after intense pressure from celebrities, businesses and public officials to make changes to the law to prevent discrimination.

That list grew exponentially and came to include Angie’s list, National Collegiate Athletic Association, Indiana University, Yelp, Apple CEO Tim Cook, Ashton Kutcher, Charles Barkley, Hillary Clinton and Miley Cyrus. Some public officials, such as Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy and Seattle Mayor Ed Murray prohibited the use of public funds to travel to Indiana.

Meanwhile, Arkansas’ governor sent a similar bill back to the state’s legislature Wednesday after pressure from multiple groups including Walmart, the state’s biggest corporation whose headquarters reside in Arkansas. (Related: Confused About The Furor Over Indiana’s Religious Freedom Law? Read These 9 Things)

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