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Indiana lawmakers reject extending civil rights protections

April 15, 2015

Republicans in the Indiana House of Representatives turned aside an effort Tuesday to extend nondiscrimination protections for gays and lesbians in response to the uproar over the new religious objections law.

Faced with national criticism and threats that some businesses and conventions might move out of the state because of the law, Republican Gov. Mike Pence signed off earlier this month on language seeking to clarify the intent. It states 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 but didn't make those protected classes under state civil rights laws. Indiana remains among 29 states that don't include protections for gays and lesbians in their nondiscrimination laws, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

Democratic Rep. Ed DeLaney of Indianapolis told the House that his proposal was needed since legislative leaders haven't committed to taking action during next year's session on extending the state's anti-discrimination laws to cover sexual orientation.

"This matter needs to be heard for the benefit of the state," DeLaney said. "... This is your chance to get this behind us today."

The measure proposed by DeLaney called 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.

Also Tuesday, the Senate voted 40-10 along party lines against adding a provision to the state budget bill that called for creating a study committee on extending civil rights protections for gays.

Amendment sponsor Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, said the national outcry the state has faced made it clear that it's time for a careful examination of Indiana's anti-discrimination laws.

"Action speaks louder than words," Lanane said. "I heard all of us say that we should continue the discussion."

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, said he didn't think an amendment to the state budget bill with only a couple weeks left in the legislative session was the correct way to address the topic.

"I do hope that we have a chance to maybe work it out, but I'd ask not to do it in this amendment to this bill," Kenley told senators.

The measure proposed in the House called 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.

Republican leaders say there isn't enough time left in the legislative session to tackle such a policy change. The House didn't actually vote on the proposal as GOP members provided the 66-24 margin to uphold a ruling from House Speaker Brian Bosma that it meet House rules for consideration.

The Indiana Economic Development Corp. announced Monday it had hired the Porter Novelli public relations firm to help repair the damage to the state's reputation from the specter that the religious objections law condoned discrimination against gays and others.

Democratic Rep. Matt Pierce of Bloomington said he believed the House should've taken the opportunity to make it clear that Indiana doesn't accept discrimination.

"It will help our IEDC people with their new public relations campaign because we might have something of substance to tell rest of the nation and the world," Pierce said.

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