Indiana Gov. Mike Pence declined to explicitly say Tuesday during his State of the State address whether lawmakers should add civil-rights protections for gays to state law, ensuring that the debate will continue as he seeks a second term.
Instead, Pence warned legislators to protect religious freedom, saying, “I will not support any bill that diminishes the religious freedom of Hoosiers or that interferes with the constitutional rights of our citizens to live out their beliefs in worship, service, or work.”
Pence's signature last year on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act—a bill opponents feared would allow religiously affiliated businesses to discriminate against gays and lesbians—and the uproar that followed immediately impacted any hopes he had of running for president.
It's now at the center of Pence's reelection, as he finds himself among Democrats' top targets.
Democrats, business coalitions, and LGBT advocacy groups are seeking the adoption of new LGBT protections at the state level, something Pence’s likely Democratic opponent, former state House Speaker John Gregg, has been particularly vocal about.
The Republican-controlled legislature, and now Pence, have been lukewarm to the idea of adding additional protections after Pence added a measure to clarify that the law does not allow businesses to discriminate. On Tuesday, Gregg campaign manager Tim Henderson called Pence a “national embarrassment” because of his unwillingness to stake out a clear position.