Gay and lesbian civil rights bill dies in the legislature
(image courtesy of Freedom Indiana)
The Senate has killed an LGBT rights bill without a vote.
Markle Republican Travis Holdman, who authored the rights bill, let a deadline pass without calling it to the floor. He says it didn't have the votes.
Senate President Pro Tem David Long (R-Fort Wayne) says the bill was killed by "extreme messaging" on both sides, with supporters denouncing the bill for excluding the transgendered and opponents refusing to consider it. He says Senate Republicans decided in a closed-door caucus there was no point in going through the "bloodletting" of a debate over nearly 30 amendments when the bill didn't have a chance of passing.
Gay-rights groups dismissed concerns about which bathroom trans Hoosiers should use as a "red herring." But Long says the issue is real. He notes there are already court battles in other states over single-sex bathrooms, and warns legislators need to act on LGBT rights before the courts force a solution on the state.
Freedom Indiana's Chris Paulsen says she would have liked to have another six weeks to talk to legislators. But she says protecting gays and lesbians without covering trans Hoosiers wasn't enough. Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane (D-Anderson) says Democrats did offer to compromise, skirting the issue of wedding-related businesses by limiting the bill to employment and housing protections. But he says Democrats weren't willing to exclude the transgendered, and Republicans wouldn't add them.
Long says the issue will return next year, and says it's inevitable that LGBT rights will eventually become law. But he argues Indiana is ahead of the curve on the issue, not behind it. Indiana is one of 28 states whose civil rights laws don't include gays and lesbians, but Long says local ordinances cover 40% of Hoosiers, including in Indianapolis, Carmel, Zionsville and Anderson. He predicts it'll be more than half by next year's session.
The original bill would have deferred talks on transgender rights to a summer study committee.
That brought opposition from the two main LGBT rights coalitions, Freedom Indiana and Indiana Competes, which said the time for full LGBT civil rights was now, given the reaction of the nation when the legislature passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) last year. Many thought the bill could be used by businesses to discriminate against gays and lesbians, and it was later amended to prevent that from happening. "The fact that Senate Bill 344 won't be heard on the Senate floor is incredibly disappointing given strong statewide support for updating our civil rights law and all the work that has been done thus far at the Statehouse to keep this conversation going," said Jen Wagner, spokeswoman for Freedom Indiana. "This bill and others introduced this session were deeply flawed, but we were working hard to fix Senate Bill 344."
Religious conservatives - groups such as Advance America, the Indiana Family Institute and the American Family Association of Indiana - opposed extending any protections to the LGBT community; they often referred to them as "special rights". Eric Miller of Advance America repeatedly claimed the bill would allow men "who say they feel like a woman" to use women's restrooms and locker rooms, something that was not part of the bill.
For Holdman, the sponsor of the bill, the blame lies with both sides of the debate. "No matter what I do, no matter what I propose I cannot move these walls on the right and the left hand because nobody wants to give," Holdman said on the Senate floor.
Legislators did pass a bill allowing longer sentences for crimes motivated by anti-gay or anti-trans bias. If the House goes along, Indiana would be the 17th state to extend hate-crime laws to gender identity. Indiana is currently one of five states with no hate-crime law at all.
Kara Brooks issued this statement on behalf of Governor Pence; “Governor Pence respects the outcome of the legislative process and appreciates the civility with which this issue was debated. In the remaining days of the session, the governor looks forward to working with members of the General Assembly to strengthen our economy, roads, schools and health care.”
Democratic Senator Joe Donnelly; “It is disappointing that the Indiana legislature has failed to act to protect LGBT Hoosiers from discrimination. Surely we can agree that it is important for all Hoosiers to feel welcome in our state and for Indiana to be an attractive home to the businesses that create jobs and opportunities for our families. I remain hopeful that ultimately we will unite around civil rights protections for all Hoosiers.”