Kentucky lawmakers need to pay close attention the backlash against Indiana's new religious freedom law, which has pushed that state's legislative leaders to search for a way to change it so it does not allow discrimination against gays.
Kentucky is one of 19 other states that passed a similar law. Lawmakers overrode Gov. Steve Beshear's 2013 veto. Beshear — responding to a broad coalition of business, religious and local government leaders — said the law was so vague that it could cause legal problems.
The Indiana law stands out from most of the other state laws because it gives businesses the right to use the law against private citizens. Kentucky's law restricts government from burdening a person's freedom of religion.
Yet, now that such laws are the focus of heated national debate, it is less likely opponents will stop their objections at the Indiana line. Republican Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona vetoed a similar bill in 2014 after a national backlash from business leaders, gay rights groups and others.
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In recent days, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence insisted his state's law was aimed at protecting religious minorities from government interference. Yet, there is no denying that conservative groups and lawmakers promoted these laws as protection for individuals and businesses afraid they would be forced in some way to support gay rights and marriage.
Indiana is in the spotlight now because it recently lost its court battle to ban gay marriage and the law was signed last week, right when attention was shifting to Indianapolis as host of the NCAA Final Four tournament. The possibility that Pence could join the GOP presidential primary was also a factor.
That limelight could shift to Kentucky soon enough. Chances are strong that the U.S. Supreme Court will rule the state's gay-marriage ban unconstitutional. And Sen. Rand Paul, who is to announce a presidential run next week, just declared gay marriage "a moral crisis."
Should Kentucky legislative leaders seek to modify the religious liberty law? They should at least get a review of the law to determine the potential for legal problems. Some legal scholars suggested in recent days that states with religious freedom laws also could pass a fairness law — now just in Lexington, Louisville and five smaller cities in Kentucky — banning discrimination against gays and lesbians.
Granted, it's hard to be optimistic about lawmakers taking such a courageous stand, especially considering that many who overrode the governor's veto did so out of fear that not doing so would hurt their re-election chances.
Lawmakers should start thinking of some kind of response. They insisted on a law that has the potential to hurt Kentucky financially when the state is rising on the national stage. Hoping no one notices is not a wise strategy.