Rubio Defends Indiana's 'Religious Freedom' Law

The issue has split social conservatives and Republican-leaning business groups.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) addresses the 42nd annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) February 27, 2015 in National Harbor, Maryland. Conservative activists attended the annual political conference to discuss their agenda. (National Journal)

Sen. Marco Rubio on Monday partially defended a new religious-freedom law in Indiana that critics say sanctions discrimination against same-sex couples.

At issue is an Indiana law, signed Thursday by Republican Gov. Mike Pence, that allows people (including businesses), when they're sued for discrimination, to argue that the allegedly discriminatory behavior was an expression of their faith. Supporters say that's a common-sense defense of the freedom to practice one's own religion, while critics say that it would give businesses legal cover for antigay discrimination.

Rubio, speaking on Fox News, appeared sympathetic to the former argument: "I think the fundamental question in some of these laws is should someone be discriminated against because of their religious views. So no one is saying here that it should be legal to deny someone service at a restaurant or a hotel because of their sexual orientation," he said.

"Should someone who provides a professional service be punished by the law because they refuse to provide that professional service to a ceremony that that they believe is in violation of their faith? I think people have a right to live out their religious faith in their own lives," Rubio said.

Spokespeople for Rubio—who is expected to announce later this month that he's running for president—were not available for further clarification of his stance on the law.

Rubio's remarks come amid a national furor over the Indiana law. LGBT-rights groups have called for a boycott, and political organizations and businesses have pulled plans to do business in Indiana.

Along with the fight between social conservatives and gay-rights advocates, the law has also produced a divide between traditional Republican constituencies. Business-oriented groups such as the Indiana Chamber of Commerce are opposing the measure and similar ones that have been introduced in states nationwide, while socially conservative religious organizations are strongly in favor.

Sam Baker contributed to this article