Indiana gay rights groups say history is on their side

Indiana LGBT rights activists said Tuesday that history is on their side and they will continue pressing for statewide civil rights protections for gender identity and sexual orientation despite lawmakers' unwillingness to act during the recently adjourned legislative session.

"The momentum is on our side. Public perception is on our side," said Peter Hanscom, a spokesman for Indiana Competes, a coalition of several hundred businesses including marquee names such as pharmaceutical maker Eli Lilly and Co., truck maker Cummins Inc. and the college sports governing body NCAA.

Lawmakers wrapped up the 2016 session last week without advancing two measures in the Senate that addressed lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender civil rights protections. Republican Senate leader David Long initially committed to bringing one of the bills up for a vote, but backed down amid fierce opposition from social conservatives, apathy toward the measures in the GOP-controlled House and statements from Gov. Mike Pence suggesting he would prioritize religious freedoms over gay rights when considering whether to sign or veto any proposed law.

The measure that was preferred by GOP leaders would not have included protections for transgender people, prompting LGBT rights groups to oppose it.

"There was no give on the far left or the far right on this issue," Long said of the decision to pull the plug on the effort this year.

Even if lawmakers seek to revive efforts to extend LGBT civil rights next year, prominent social conservatives say gay rights supporters will once again face a well-organized opposition.

"We will be responding to all the same arguments — which we consider to be spurious — regarding special rights that violate people's religious liberty," Pastor Kevin Baird of the Indiana Pastors Alliance said, adding that the group was already strategizing for next year's session. "We just believe that it's a not only personal violation of our faith but a wrong turn for our culture and society at-large."

Indiana faced a backlash last year after it passed a law allowing those who oppose gay rights for religious reasons to withhold services such as providing flowers or cakes for same-sex weddings. The law prompted an uproar that included calls to boycott the state. It was later revised, although the Legislature had wanted to revisit the issue this year.

Indiana Competes and Freedom Indiana both said they were disappointed by the lack of further action this year, but struck an optimistic tone that statewide legislation will eventually be passed as more and more cities and towns adopt ordinances protecting the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. On Monday, elected officials in Kokomo voted to join Indianapolis, Bloomington, Evansville and a smattering of other cities to adopt an LGBT rights ordinance.

"We heard it in Kokomo," Paulsen said. "There are people who are working to elect officials who represent their points of view."

Depending on the outcome of November's gubernatorial election, efforts to extend statewide LGBT protections could get a boost. Former Indiana House Speaker John Gregg, Pence's Democratic challenger, has vowed to push for full LGBT civil rights if elected following what is expected to be a difficult campaign.

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