IN Focus: Democrats unveil new push for LGBT rights

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INDIANAPOLIS (Oct. 6, 2015) – Senate Democrats announced their plans Tuesday to add sexual orientation and gender identity to Indiana’s civil rights code.

The move, which comes one day after the city of Carmel narrowly passed its anti-discrimination ordinance, is meant to ensure statewide protections for LGBT Hoosiers.

“We weren’t going to wait around and be told to just see what happens,” Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane (D-Anderson) said. “When it comes to a matter of important public policy for the state of Indiana, it should be uniform.”

At the same time, leading Republicans, which hold a super-majority in the General Assembly, have been meeting privately on the issue for weeks, including a gathering Gov. Mike Pence hosted yesterday with state business leaders.

“I think whatever issues come up in the next session of the General Assembly, they’ll be considered on their merits,” Pence said in an interview Monday.

Republicans want to work out a compromise that would protect religious freedom while avoiding a fierce public debate, like last year’s debate over the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

“There’s no doubt that we’ll be talking about the civil rights statute and other issues. I would not put that as the most important issues that faces every Hoosier in the state,” said State House Speaker Brian Bosma (R – Indianapolis).

“I appreciate Sen. Lanane’s input on this issue, and I look forward to reviewing his proposed legislation,” State Senate President Pro Tem David Long (R-Fort Wayne) said in a statement. “I expect the Senate Republican caucus to have our own contributions to this discussion in the days ahead as we all seek to find the right solution for our state.”

Simmering, though, is the potential for another public battle.

Conservatives, who back the original religious freedom law, have been targeting local city ordinances like in Carmel before turning their attention to the state.

“This ordinance discriminates against a religious business owner that says they cannot in good conscious participate in a homosexual wedding ceremony,” Eric Miller recently said after a hearing in Carmel, executive director of Advance America.

Top Republicans, including Governor Mike Pence have been meeting privately to determine a course of action and trying to keep a public battle at bay, like what was seen earlier this year with the passage of the controversial religious freedom law.

In response to RFRA, cities across Indiana, Columbus, Zionsville, and the latest, Carmel, have passed LGBT protections of their own and added sexual orientation and gender identity to each city’s civil rights code.

Former Angie’s List CEO and Republican operative Bill Oesterle has also formed a coalition called Tech for Equality, which is advocating for the passage of what Democrats proposed Tuesday.

And Freedom Indiana, which hosted a community meeting Tuesday evening, has shifted its focus from gay marriage to changes in the civil rights code.

“There’s not room to compromise on civil rights,” Oesterle said.

Democrats, though, admit no Republicans have signed onto the legislation.

And in Indiana’s General Assembly, it’s Republicans who hold the votes.

“We’ll leave it up for the public debate to occur on this,” Lanane said. “The public will weigh in I assume in terms of what they think is the best approach.”