LGB (minus T) civil rights bill dies in Indiana Senate

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Feb. 2, 2016)-- A bill that would have extended civil rights protections to lesbian, gay and bisexual Hoosiers died in the State Senate Tuesday after Senate Republicans met privately.

Senate Bill 344 aimed to expand protections based on sexual orientation, but not gender identity. That issue would have been sent to a study committee. SB 344 passed the Senate Committee on Rules and Legislative Procedure on Jan. 27.

During that hearing,  lawmakers heard more than four hours of testimony after making a series of complicated changes to SB344, including some changes which could have essentially repealed last year's controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Tuesday is the last day changes could be made to the bill on the Senate floor and Wednesday is the final day the Senate can vote to approve bills and send them to the House or reject them outright.

“No matter what I do, no matter what I propose, I cannot move these walls that are on the right and left hand because nobody wants to give,” said State Senator Travis Holdman (R – Markle) who authored the bill.

From the beginning, it was a bill that both sides had a hard time saying yes to.

“First of all, I’m very sorry that we couldn’t get it up, but there are just some political realities that you have to deal with in an environment such as this,” said Holdman who pulled the plug on his proposal Tuesday.

“We’ll come back to the drawing board. We’ll try to learn more about the issue. I think people will be better educated at it having gone through this process and we’ll see where it goes,” said Senate President Pro Tem, David Long (R – Fort Wayne).

“There was a way, there is a path. Unfortunately today, we shut the gate on that path; we wanted that path to continue forward,” said Freedom Indiana Campaign Manager, Chris Paulsen.

Not everyone was disappointed to see the bill disappear.

“Elected officials are really letting everyone in Indiana down because this misrepresents really all the great people in all the places across the state that we know,” said Steve Stolen who supports civil rights protections for the Hoosier LGBT community.

Married, gay, and living with their 17 year old adopted daughter, Stolen and his husband, Rob MacPherson didn’t like the bill from the beginning. In particular, that 344 left out protections for the transgender community and would’ve allowed religious organizations, shelters, and adoption agencies, to deny service to gays and lesbians.

“The major things in our lives; the American Dream, a great job, a great house, creating a family, those things now, we can actually be discriminated against and that’s just wrong,” said MacPherson.

Senate leadership said the issue of providing civil rights to the LGBT community will definitely be on the agenda for the 2017 session.

Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett issued the following statement:

“Today’s decision by legislative leaders to abandon a discussion of civil rights is incredibly disappointing. Over the last year, Indianapolis neighborhoods have felt the multimillion dollar impact of this debate – in an effort to develop jobs, in our search for a talented workforce, and when we are soliciting national convention business.

"Indianapolis has extended civil rights protections to LGBT residents and visitors for more than a decade, and our community has only been strengthened by welcoming all. By refusing to take a step forward in the march toward equality this year, the General Assembly risks Indiana falling even more behind.”

A spokeswoman for Indiana Governor Mike Pence issued the following statement:

“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.”

LGBT activist group Freedom Indiana tweeted that the bill would not be heard on the Senate floor. The group called the bill "shameful," and tweeted, "Inaction is not a solution, this is a grave disappointment."

U.S. Senator Joe Donnelly (D-IN) issued the following statement:

“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.”