A Democratic Indiana lawmaker and LGBT ally got shut down by the Republican majority when she tried to make a point on civil rights on the House floor Thursday. And it happened just as Gov. Mike Pence tried to ride the fence on the issue, declaring that while no citizen should be fired “for who they are or who they love,” he would still fight for “religious freedom” — which some conservatives think would be endangered by LGBT nondiscrimination protections.
The lawmakers clashed at a meeting of the House Education Committee Thursday, The Indianapolis Star reports. Rep. Terri Austin, a Democrat, spoke up during a discussion of a bill on charter school student data, seeking to add an amendment stipulating that charter schools could not discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity. This was in keeping with a Democratic pledge to keep pressing for LGBT rights legislation, after lawmakers recently killed one such bill, albeit a flawed one.
The Republican chair of the committee, Robert Behning, chuckled as Austin tried to offer her amendment and said, "I'm just making it clear before we start that it's going to be out of order," according to the Star.
Before the exchange ended, Austin did get in a point about LGBT rights:
"The truth is any one of us, gentlemen, who had a child who may be gay, transgender, lesbian, or even not sure what their sexual orientation is at those tender years — we would not stand for them to be discriminated against. I know you wouldn't. And if it's something we don't want for our own child, it's something we don't want for any children."
Meanwhile, over in Kokomo, Gov. Mike Pence was holding a town hall meeting where one attendee asked a question about LGBT rights:
“A simple yes or no answer. Do you believe that gay and transgender people should be able to be fired from their jobs just for that reason?”
After a long pause, Pence said, “I don’t think anyone should ever be discriminated against because of who they are or who they love,” but then pointed to the state constitution's guarantee of religious freedom (guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution as well). “I will not support legislation that diminishes religious freedom,” he said. “I hope you hear my heart a little bit as much as my head on this.”
Pence's tepid response maintains the tone of his earlier remarks on the issue, where he rarely used the words "gay" or "lesbian" sparingly, and outright refused to answer the question about employment discrimination last year when ABC's anchor George Stephanopolous asked him on-air, at the height of the national controversy over Indiana's so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
When it was passed passed last year, many progressives denounced Indiana's RFRA as a license for businesses and individuals to use their religious beliefs as an excuse to discriminate against LGBT people or others. The legislature subsequently passed, and Pence signed, a “fix” to the law aimed at assuring it would not override municipal civil rights ordinances or otherwise enable discrimination. But the fight underscored the fact that Indiana has no statewide law banning anti-LGBT discrimination, and that some religious conservatives see any such law as an infringement on their freedom to practice their faith.
Pence's hair-splitting statement brought the wrath of LGBT rights group Freedom Indiana, which posted video of it online.
“Did he finally give a yes or no answer? Hardly. Once again, the Governor tried to have it both ways. After more than a year of this issue dominating public discourse and his promise to give it thorough consideration, Governor Pence STILL can’t answer a very simple, straight-forward question. ...
“Even if he refuses to answer, Hoosiers won’t stop asking the obvious question. If the Governor truly believes, as he said today, that 'no one should ever be discriminated against,' then why does he flat-out refuse to support a simple solution to add 'sexual orientation, gender identity' to our state’s civil rights law?”
Watch Pence’s statement below.