BEDFORD, N.H. (AP) — Likely Democratic presidential candidate Martin O'Malley says it's "shameful" for Republicans to support an Indiana law that critics see as legalizing discrimination against gays and lesbians.
The former Maryland governor criticized 2016 Republican presidential hopefuls while in New Hampshire on Tuesday. Several have expressed support for the law, which prevents the state from restricting the ability of people and businesses to express their religious beliefs. Opponents say the law will allow businesses to refuse service to people, based on sexual orientation.
O'Malley said Republican support for the law reflects a fundamental difference between the two parties. Democrats, he says, want more people to participate fully in society.
"I think it's shameful that presidential candidates in this day and age would try to give cover to a law that is sweeping across a lot of Republican-governed states," he said, and that would "give license to the discrimination of gay and lesbian people." He said: "It's not who we are as a country."
Struggling with a backlash against the measure, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence said Tuesday he now wants legislation on his desk to clarify that the new law does not allow discrimination.
About 20 states have similar laws.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush applauded Pence for signing the law and said it is not discriminatory. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, an announced 2016 contender, and neurosurgeon Ben Carson, a possible Republican candidate, also commended Pence's signing of the law.
O'Malley pointed to actions taken in Maryland during his governorship that raised business participation among minorities and women, legalized gay marriage and made it easier for immigrants to obtain driver's licenses.
"We do these things because we know that our state's better, our economy's better, our country and our society is better the more fully people participate," he said. Republicans "don't subscribe to that."
O'Malley is traveling to early voting states seeking to build support for a possible 2016 bid as Democrats consolidate around former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. She's expected to announce her candidacy in coming weeks.
O'Malley's visit to New Hampshire, his second this month, included a Tuesday morning speech to a business crowd, private meetings and an event with young Democrats. His speech centered on enriching and expanding the middle class by raising wages, reining in Wall Street and halting discrimination based on race, gender or sexual orientation.
Over the weekend, O'Malley took a swipe at both Clinton and Bush when he said the presidency is not "a crown to be passed between two families." But he was less apt to criticize Clinton on Tuesday, saying only that he hears from people who want new leadership.
"History's full of examples where the front-runner is the front-runner and totally inevitable, right up until the front-runner's no longer the front-runner and no longer inevitable," O'Malley said.