Months after Indiana Gov. Mike Pence faced severe backlash for signing into law a sweeping "religious freedom" bill that opponents said gave businesses a "license to discriminate" against LGBT people, the Republican governor is now reportedly considering adding LGBT protections for the first time in his state's history.
Indianapolis TV station WRTV quoted a source close to the governor who claims Pence has been hosting meetings with leaders in the Hoosier business community, in hopes of resolving the issue of LGBT legal protections before next year's legislative session.
In those meetings, Hoosier business leaders and the governor are reportedly considering what's come to be known as the "Utah Compromise.”
The compromise would be modeled after Utah's recently enacted antidiscrimination law, which bans employment and housing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, but includes a broad religious exemption. The Utah bill won the support of the Mormon Church because of that exemption, which allows religious organizations and their affiliates, such as colleges and charities, in addition to the Boy Scouts of America, to ignore the bill's nondiscrimination stipulations when it comes to their own employment and housing policies.
As The Advocate reported, Utah’s law, signed in March, protects employees from being fired for discussing their religious beliefs at work, as long as such discussion does not become disruptive or reach the level of harassment. A companion law lets county clerks opt out of solemnizing same-sex marriages if they provide stand-ins and perform no marriages at all.
Former Angie’s List chief Bill Oesterle told the Courier-Journal the Utah compromise “is a horrible half-solution.” Angie's List was one of the largest and most vocal opponents of Indiana's so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act, postponing a scheduled expansion of the company's Indianapolis headquarters in response to what Oesterle plainly labeled a law that enables "discrimination of homosexuals." Oesterle ultimately stepped down from his position at Angie's List amid the RFRA controversy, pledging to return to politics and work to "save" Indiana's image.
Oesterle and other big names in Indiana business, including Eli Lilly & Co. and the NCAA, say they want explicit protections for LGBT Hoosiers, who are currently not protected by hate-crimes legislation or statewide nondiscrimination law. And lawmakers are naive, he told the newspaper, if they believe that kind of "compromise" passed in Utah would be enough to repair the damage done by Pence’s infamous RFRA and the hastily crafted revision, which Oesterle called "insuffient" at the time it was passed.
Pence himself told WRTV his focus was on attracting business investment in Indiana. "I think whatever issues come up in the next General Assembly, they'll be considered on their merits," said Pence at an economic development announcement on Monday. "But we're always going to stay focused on attracting investment that'll make it possible for more good-paying jobs in Indiana."
The governor's spokesperson dismissed the report, telling WRTV Pence routinely meets with business leaders across the state about issues that are important to them.