A Democratic lawmaker said Monday he wanted to force an Indiana House debate over whether to extend protections for gays, lesbians and others under the state's nondiscrimination laws less than two weeks after the backlash over the religious objections law.
The proposal from Democratic Rep. Ed DeLaney of Indianapolis calls for adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the nondiscrimination sections of numerous state laws, including the Indiana civil rights law covering education, employment, public accommodations and housing.
"I think the state needs to stop suffering about this. The discussion about the religious freedom law has not ended, either on a local or a state or even a national basis," DeLaney told The Associated Press. "... I think it is time to get this behind us."
Republican Gov. Mike Pence on April 2 signed a bill from the GOP-dominated Legislature adding language to the religious objections law stating that service providers couldn't use the law as a legal defense for refusing to provide goods, services, facilities or accommodations based on sexual orientation, gender identity and other factors.
That marked the first Indiana law to explicitly mention sexual orientation and gender identity in nondiscrimination provisions. Indiana, however, remains among 29 states that don't include protections for gays and lesbians in their nondiscrimination laws, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma and other GOP legislative leaders have said extending anti-discrimination laws to cover sexual orientation could be debated next year, but don't believe there's enough time to tackle such a policy change before this year's General Assembly session ends no later than April 29.
DeLaney said he planned to offer the proposal as an amendment to at least one of two bills for which the House faces a Tuesday deadline for taking action.
House Majority Leader Jud McMillin, R-Brookville, said Monday that Republican lawmakers were still reviewing DeLaney's proposal and didn't believe the religious objections law protests justified speeding up action on the issue.
"If we are going to have the protected class discussion, that's a pretty deep dive, and there are a lot of issues from both sides that need to be fully taken into consideration," McMillin said. "It would be best to do that throughout the course of an entire session."
Indiana officials faced widespread pressure, including from major businesses and institutions such as Eli Lilly and Co. and the NCAA, over the religious objection law until Republican legislators passed the clarification bill. That was despite Pence and fellow Republicans maintaining that it never sanctioned discrimination against anyone.
DeLaney said he believed the Legislature needed to act on extending broader protections.
"This is really the last opportunity until next year," he said. "Things might be different if the speaker had agreed that we'd actually hear the bill next year, but we don't have that agreement."