Lack of Compromise Cited as LGBT Rights Bill Dies in Indiana Senate

AP Photo
David Long

Declaring there was "no need" to have a debate or vote on the issue of civil rights protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Hoosiers, Indiana Senate President Pro Tem David Long Tuesday killed what's come to be known as the "deeply flawed" Senate Bill 344.

The measure, which would have banned discrimination based on sexual orientation but not gender identity, and offered broad religious exemptions, was “a controversial attempt at compromising between extending rights for gay Hoosiers and protecting religious liberties,” The Indianapolis Star reports.

Long told reporters the bill as written could not pass because it did not have enough support from Republican lawmakers, who hold the majority in both houses of the legislature, so there was no point in debating it. He promised that lawmakers would take another pass at civil rights legislation for LGBT citizens next year.

While groups like the Human Rights Campaign condemned the bill as "dangerous" and "shameful" because of its limited scope and religious exemptions, House Speaker Brian Bosma and Gov. Mike Pence, both Republicans, reportedly said it went too far in granting LGBT protections. Long said that also factored into his decision to kill the bill. He blamed both supporters and opponents equally for their unwillingness to compromise.

The bill as written would have added sexual orientation as a protected characteristic under state antidiscrimination law governing employment, housing, and public accommodations. It would have given religious organizations, businesses that provide wedding services, and small businesses an exemption to discriminate at will against LGBT and other customers who offend the operator's religious sensibilities.

The most notable item missing from the measure was any form of protection for transgender people. Instead, the bill called for a study committee to be formed in the summer of 2016 to investigate whether there is such a thing as anti-transgender discrimination and what kind of legislation, if any, was needed.

Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane told the Star Democrats were willing to compromise on transgender rights by leaving public accommodations out of the bill. But he told the paper that in its current form, without any transgender protections at all, the measure would not get support from Democrats. 

The bill would have also repealed Indiana’s controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act, including the "fix" that would ostensibly keep the RFRA from being used to discriminate, and would have barred local governments from enacting any new LGBT protections.

Right-wing religious groups, including the Indiana Pastors Alliance, Indiana Family Institute, and American Family Association of Indiana, hailed the bill’s death as a victory for religious freedom. LGBT groups, although they had little enthusiasm for the legislation as written, said there should at least have been debate on the issue, in hopes of crafting a better bill.

The death of Senate Bill 344 brought these comments from LGBT advocates:

“Indiana lawmakers must move forward legislation this session that would truly safeguard LGBT Hoosiers and visitors from discrimination,” said JoDee Winterhof, senior vice president for policy and political affairs at the Human Rights Campaign. “These lawmakers cannot ignore their responsibility to move Indiana beyond the continuing damage they inflicted on the state last year with an anti-LGBT RFRA. Fully inclusive LGBT nondiscrimination protections are what the state desperately needs and what LGBT Hoosiers and visitors deserve.”

Jane Henegar, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, echoed that sentiment:

“As Hoosiers and as Americans, we need to stand against discrimination and resolve this issue that has divided our state and inflicted real and persistent damage. Doing nothing has never been an acceptable option. Hoosiers need full protection from discrimination now. As important members our community, gay and transgender people need to be able to work, live and take care of themselves and their families without fear of discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations. We will continue to fight during this legislative session to update our civil rights law and undo the damage done to our state by last year's RFRA."

Watch Long explain why he killed Senate Bill 344, below.

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