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March 31, 2015

New York governor bans non-essential state travel to Indiana

Decision is in response to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has banned non-essential travel for state employees to Indiana. 

The decision comes in response to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which takes effect in Indiana on July 1. The law bars state and municipal provisions that would "substantially burden a person's right to the exercise of religion." The legislation has been widely criticized for potentially allowing businesses to discriminate against the LGBT community. 

New York joins Connecticut, Washington and the city of Portland in enacting similar bans. Cuomo made the announcement in a press release on the governor's website:

"Today, I direct all agencies, departments, boards and commissions to immediately review all requests for state funded or state sponsored travel to the State of Indiana and to bar any such publicly funded travel that is not essential to the enforcement of state law or public health and safety. The ban on publicly funded travel shall take effect immediately. 

"New York State has been, and will continue to be, a leader in ensuring that all LGBT persons enjoy full and equal civil rights. With this action, we stand by our LBGT family members, friends and colleagues to ensure that their rights are respected."

The bill was signed into law by Indiana's Republican Gov. Mike Pence last Thursday. It was approved by the state's House and Senate, both controlled by the GOP. 

The legislation has drawn protests from civil rights groups and backlash from prominent openly gay business leaders and politicians. Pence, who defends the bill's merits and claims its intentions have been taken out of context by the media, said Tuesday that the bill will require a "fix" to ensure it doesn't allow businesses to deny service to anyone.

Lawmakers in Arkansas passed a similar bill today, which has also drawn protests. 

Cuomo, a Democrat, signed into law a bill that legalized gay marriage in New York in 2011.