Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) thinks other states should follow Utah’s example to avoid the “religious freedom” law controversy that erupted in Indiana this week. Utah’s “religious freedom” law grants equal protection to both the gay community and people of faith. It has been praised by both LGBT groups and the state’s influential Mormon Church.
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) sparked a firestorm when he signed his state’s version of the “religious freedom” law last week. Critics have said Indiana’s law promotes anti-gay discrimination while its supporters argue it prevents the government from interfering with religious practices.
Bush, a likely 2016 presidential candidate, cited Utah’s legislation when he discussed the issue at a lunch for potential supporters in East Palo Alto, California on Wednesday where he took a question on the issue.
Bush said the way the law was passed in Utah last month “never made the news” and did not lead to the “yelling and screaming” that has followed Indiana’s “religious freedom” legislation.
There are “religious freedom” laws in multiple states and at the federal level, but opponents have said elements of Indiana’s law mean it will encourage discrimination,
Bush attributed the lack of an uproar over the law in Urah to officials letting gay rights organisations and religious leaders have input on the legislation before it was passed.
“Utah went about this, but what they did is they brought all the constituencies together and this included the leadership of the LDS Church and LBGT [sic] community and said, ‘How can we forge a consensus where we can protect religious freedom and also create an environment where we’re not discriminating against people?’ And they figured it out and they passed a law,” Bush said, adding, “There wasn’t a bunch of yelling and screaming. That to me seems like a better approach to dealing with this”
Earlier this week Bush discussed Indiana’s “religious freedom” law in an interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt. In that interview, he said Pence did the “right thing” and said he believes “religous freedom” laws can “respect and be tolerant of people’s lifestyles, but allow for people of faith to be able to exercise theirs.”
Bush largely echoed these comments at his lunch in Silicon Valley on Wednesday. His team provided Business Insider with audio of the event, which was first reported on by the New York Times.
Though Bush pointed to Utah as an ideal example at the event, he reiterated his past support for Pence.
“The better approach would have been the approach that is the more consensus-oriented approach I think,” Bush said. “I’m not being critical of Mike Pence, because I did say that I supported his efforts.”
Bush also stressed his belief a solution could be found that would address the concerns of people on each side of the debate:
“But I do fear that certain freedoms that historically have been part of our DNA as a country now are being challenged and I don’t think it’s appropriate. I do think if you’re a florist and you don’t want to participate in the arrangement of a wedding, you shouldn’t have to be obliged to do that if it goes against your faith because you believe in traditional marriage. Likewise if someone walked into a flower shop as a gay couple and said I want to buy all these off the rack, these flowers, they should have every right to do it. That would be discrimination. But forcing someone to participate in a wedding is not discrimination; it is I think protecting the first amendment right.”
Bush’s comments on the law seem like an extension of his efforts to find middle ground on gay issues as he preps his likely presidential campaign. In January, he reacted to his home state of Florida allowing gay marriage with a statement that said, “I hope that we can show respect for the good people on all sides of the gay and lesbian marriage issue — including couples making lifetime commitments to each other who are seeking greater legal protections.”
This moderate tone on gay issues is a contrast from Bush’s past positions on the issue. In 1994, roughly five years before he took office in Florida, Bush wrote an editorial criticising legal protections for gay couples as safeguarding “sodomy.” Earlier this year, his spokeswoman said that “opinion editorial from 20 years ago does not reflect Gov. Bush’s views now.”
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