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Indianapolis Mayor Calls On Legislature To Repeal Or Ammend Bill

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

That Republican mayor of Indianapolis is Greg Ballard, and he's on the line now. Mayor Ballard, welcome to the program.

MAYOR GREG BALLARD: Good morning. Thank you for having me.

INSKEEP: So what's wrong with this law?

BALLARD: Well, you could see the controversy by itself, and I don't - I'm not sure all of the lawmakers understood exactly what they were doing. I do believe they were warned appropriately what was - potentially could occur. At least they're honest about their surprise about the level of the backlash. But because sexual orientation, gender identity are not protected classes, there's a little loophole here.

INSKEEP: Now, you just pointed to a difference between Indiana and some other states that have religious freedom laws that could be said to be similar to Indiana's new law. You said that sexual orientation and gender identity are not protected classes in Indiana. You're stating that Indianapolis has a law protecting gays and lesbians, but the state as a whole does not. Is that correct?

BALLARD: That's correct. We've had it for quite a while in the city of Indianapolis. And, you know, anybody coming in for the Final Four, obviously, will be warmly received and very, very welcome. But at the state level, that is not necessarily true. We need to make sure that whatever legislation the lawmakers at the Statehouse craft, it has to address that head on, and there's just no getting around that right now.

INSKEEP: Can they get away with - if that's the right phrase - just clarifying the intent of the law, which is what Gov. Mike Pence wants to do?

BALLARD: Well, maybe but I - sometimes they're having trouble understanding the breadth and the depth of what's happening here. And I'm going to make sure that they do understand that. They have to be very specific in how they address this remedy.

INSKEEP: Have you spoken with your fellow Republican, Gov. Mike Pence?

BALLARD: Yes, and I've spoken with so many other people, I can't tell you - (laughter) it's bad. And they know what the effect of this is. We're trying to make that very, very clear. We're also trying to tell them what exactly what we - needs to be done because it really is hurting the reputation of the state and, by definition almost, the city also, and we just can't have that.

INSKEEP: Well, you mention the damage to the image of Indiana. Let me ask you about the substance of the law because Republican presidential candidates have been speaking out on this. Jeb Bush, for example, said, quote, "Gov. Pence has done the right thing." And he said that people declining to participate in a gay wedding are, quote, "acting on conscience." Is Gov. Bush missing something?

BALLARD: Well, I hate to single anybody out. I think all the presidential candidates are saying certain things, but you can't take the law by itself. You have to take it in conjunction with the rest of the Indiana code. And since sexual orientation and gender identity are not protected classes, then that is where the problem comes in. And you can see the effect throughout not just the city of Indianapolis, but throughout the state of Indiana. The business community is outraged. A large, large number of them are Republicans.

INSKEEP: Well, the basic question is, should gays and lesbians be refused service in certain situations where people feel that their conscience calls on them to deny them service? What do you think about that?

BALLARD: We could not get an answer to that, privately or publicly. So that's an issue, and that's the answer that the state legislature must come up with.

INSKEEP: Do you believe that the law should say, however it's worded, that gays and lesbians should be served when they walk into a business?

BALLARD: Yes, but it depends on how they do that. And we want to make sure they do it in such a way that everybody knows what is the right thing to do. That's absolutely critical.

INSKEEP: Mayor Ballard, I want to ask something very carefully here. You sound a little tired this morning, and that's understandable because we called you at a very early hour.

BALLARD: That's OK.

INSKEEP: But I also began to wonder if it's just been a very painful several days for you.

BALLARD: Well, it has been because we've worked so hard for the last 30 to 40 years in this city. I don't necessarily want to go into all that, but, you know, the reputation of the city 40 years ago was not a necessarily good one. We've worked very hard to become a very strong convention city - a sports event kind of city. We have, you know, probably the premier jazz band competition in the country. We have the best children's museum in the world. We've - all this has grown up together, and it's hurtful to see what's happening. And now we are at a point where a particular piece of legislation that has been horrible for the city and state has put our city in this position.

INSKEEP: Mayor Greg Ballard of Indianapolis, thanks very much.

BALLARD: Thank you - appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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