Battle between religious and gay rights splits GOP states

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) _ Republican lawmakers have advanced measures in about a dozen states this year that could strengthen protections for those who refuse for religious reasons to provide services to gay couples.

The bills could benefit court clerks, photographers, florists, bakers, wedding-hall operators and others who say gay matrimony goes against their beliefs.

Mississippi’s governor signed a wide-ranging measure Tuesday. But other sweeping measures have failed, stalled or are still pending in legislatures.

The push for religious-protection laws has intensified following last year’s Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage nationwide.

The efforts have highlighted rifts between the Republican Party’s social conservatives and its pro-business wing, which fears the new measures could scare away companies and lead to boycotts.