IN Focus: Local communities, state leaders discuss LGBT rights

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CARMEL, Ind. (Sept. 17, 2015) - A council committee has tabled- at least for now- a hotly debated ordinance designed to protect gays and lesbians from discrimination.

The chair of the Finance, Administration and Rules Committee tabled the anti-discrimination ordinance Thursday night, saying the council still needed to work on the specifics, but that ordinance could still be brought up for a vote as soon as Monday.

“We are attempting to drag our feet and not pass a non-discrimination ordinance based on a lot of technicalities,” said council member Ron Carter. “That’s not sending the right message.”

“I’m glad the council tabled the ordinance, they did the right thing,” said Eric Miller with Advance America. “The mayor wants to discriminate against people of faith and that’s just not right.”

“It’s dividing the council and it’s dividing the community,” said council member Eric Seidensticker. “It’s a difficult issue.”

City Councilors decided last month not to vote on the proposal, but to send it to committee for further study.

The proposal was born in the wake of the controversy surrounding the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard proposed the ordinance and said it's meant to protect people from 12 categories of discrimination, including sexual orientation, age and disability. It fines people $500 per day for discrimination against someone else, with certain exemptions.

A majority of the people who showed up at the meeting last month spoke against the ordinance, citing religious beliefs.

But plenty of residents do side with Mayor Brainard, who argues it would promote a welcoming city and attract businesses and residents.

Even though it was tabled Thursday night- the council president could still try to take the measure back out of committee and bring it to a vote when the full council meets on Monday.

Watch the video above to see more reaction on that decision in Carmel, and the latest on the statewide efforts to add LGBT protections.

“We’re looking to add four words and a comma into our existing law; sexual orientation, comma, gender identity,” said Chris Paulsen, Freedom Indiana’s Campaign Manager.

Right now in Indiana, gays and lesbians can be denied employment or housing based on their sexual orientation; Freedom Indiana, the forefront organization that fought the religious freedom restoration act, is looking to change that.

“It is very patchwork right now. You drive from Indianapolis to Columbus and you’re not covered in between, but you’re covered here in Indianapolis and when you get to Columbus you’re fully covered,” said Paulsen.

Cities across the state have added their own ordinance protections. In Indy, Columbus, Zionsville, Fort Wayne, and others, gays and lesbians are protected a protected class. But for Freedom Indiana, and many democratic state lawmakers, a handful of cities, isn’t enough.

“Indiana and all Hoosiers deserve to know exactly what we’re doing in the state and to have these hodgepodges of different counties having different rules is not something that Hoosiers should have to deal with,” said State Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis.

Indiana democrats are already pushing for a 2016 agenda that adds gays and lesbians as a protected class statewide.

In April, following the passage of changes to the state’s controversial religious freedom restoration act, republican state leaders like House Speaker Brian Bosma said that they would be open to the discussion of passing a state wide ordinance that would add gays and lesbians as a protected class.

Opponents though like Eric Miller of Advance America, argue a state-wide ordinance would force Hoosiers to go against their religious beliefs.

“I go to church on Sunday as well. My pastor and I don’t agree on this issue. But as a legislator, I represent everyone. I don’t represent just my church. For us to stand in front of the Indiana General Assembly and say that we represent only religious organizations, we’re not doing our job. We represent all Hoosiers,” said Taylor.

IndyStar reporter Stephanie Wang covers diversity-related issues, including the fight over LGBT protections. In the video below, Wang dicusses the latest news in the battle over civil rights and religious freedom.

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