As Indiana's legislature considers LGBT rights bills, one state lawmaker has compared such laws to protections for psychopathic killers, pedophiles, and overweight people.
During a town hall meeting Saturday in his hometown of Whiteland, in central Indiana, Republican Rep. Woody Burton made these analogies "in an effort to describe his belief that being gay is a behavior," The Indianapolis Star reports.
"You can't control it sometimes. I understand that," he said. "If someone's a psychopathic killer, it's a behavior thing. They can't help it. OK? Somebody's a homosexual, maybe it's a genetic thing. Maybe it's not. They can't help it. But it's still a behavioral thing."
He then brought up former Subway spokesman Jared Fogle, who was sentenced to prison last year after pleading guilty to possessing child pornography and crossing state lines to have sex with a minor. "This thing with Subway and Jared is a classic example of what's the next step," Burton said. "And you say, oh, that will never happen. I've got articles on my computer at home from the English newspapers saying that those people can't help it and they ought to be protected in England."
He also asked why overweight people shouldn't be protected from discrimination. "If I pass a law that says transgenders and homosexuals are covered under the civil rights laws, then does it say anywhere that fat white people are covered?" he said. "What if I'm overweight? I don't mean that to be facetious. I've been fat all my life and people used to make fun of me when I was a kid. I could probably do something about it, OK? Maybe I can't. Maybe it's just my habits. Maybe I got some physical thing. But when I was a kid there were people who discriminated against me because I was fat."
LGBT rights advocates interviewed by the Star condemned Burton's statements. "Rep. Burton's comments display a lack of overall education and understanding of the legal discrimination that LGBT Hoosiers face daily," said Peter Hanscom, initiative director for Indiana Competes, which backs statewide antidiscrimination protections. "False comparisons that suggest sexual orientation and gender identity are 'behaviors' identical to obesity or child molestation are categorically false and have no place in this conversation."
"Sexual orientation and gender identity are not choices, and it is highly inappropriate to conflate them with issues such as obesity or crimes such as pedophilia," said Chris Paulsen, campaign manager for LGBT rights group Freedom Indiana. "On a personal note, I'm disgusted that an elected official in our state would issue what I consider a personal attack on me and my family. My wife and I live here. We love this state. We pay taxes, and we support our local economy. Those are all choices, and we could choose to live elsewhere. It's beyond me why a state lawmaker would say such offensive and insulting things in a public forum about his fellow Hoosiers."
Burton told the Star Tuesday that he wasn't equating LGBT people with murderers or pedophiles. "When I talk about behavioral things, I want to stress that I'm not comparing gays to Jared or people that are psychotic," he said. "I was trying to explain behavior is a thing that people have and sometimes they can control it and sometimes they can't. When we start talking about civil rights based on behavior, where do we draw the line?"
Indiana does not have a statewide antidiscrimination law covering sexual orientation or gender identity, but a state Senate committee is taking up two bills on the issue this afternoon. Neither has generated great enthusiasm among LGBT rights activists. One, Senate Bill 100, would ban discrimination based on both characteristics, in employment, housing, and public accommodations, but would offer a broad exemption to individuals and small businesses that cite religious objections to dealing with LGBT people. Another, Senate Bill 344, would cover sexual orientation only. The Senate Rules and Legislative Procedure Committee hearing started at 4 p.m. Eastern time.
Senate Bill 66, which would have elevated such religious objections to the level of constitutional rights, died in the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday morning, the Star reports. It was an attempt to replace the Religious Freedom Restoration Act adopted by the state last year, which opponents characterized as a "license to discriminate" against LGBT people before it was amended. Critics had called SB 66 a "super-RFRA."
But backers of such legislation aren't giving up; now two proposals with similar provisions have been filed as amendments to the bills under consideration, the Star notes. Late this afternoon, the committee added one of them to SB 344. Another amendment has been filed that is more progressive, seeking to add gender identity to that bill, but it has not been added yet.
Also, federal government officials are warning that a portion of SB 100 could violate the U.S. Fair Housing Act by imposing a fine of $1,000 for "frivolous complaints" about housing discrimination, according to the paper.
Freedom Indiana held a rally and lobby day today at the state capitol in Indianapolis. "There should be no one left behind, and no exceptions for LGBT Hoosiers," Paulsen told a crowd of about 100 at the rally, the Star reports.
Bishop Cate Waynick of the Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis also told attendees that religion is a reason to oppose discrimination, not excuse it. "Religion commands us -- compels us ... to work for these rights for the LGBT community," she said to applause.
Check back for updates from the hearing.