February 12, 2016

Religious liberty, LGBT rights legislation fails to advance

A view of the Indiana Statehouse in Indianapolis. (File photo by Natalie Hoefer)

A view of the Indiana Statehouse in Indianapolis. (File photo by Natalie Hoefer)

By Brigid Curtis Ayer

Legislation to expand lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights and provide some protections for religious liberty died on the Senate floor on Feb. 3.

Following a private meeting among Senate Republican leadership, Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, author of Senate Bill 344, told lawmakers on the Senate floor he didn’t have the votes for his bill to pass, so he was not going to call it for a second reading.

Glenn Tebbe, executive director of the Indiana Catholic Conference (ICC), who serves as the legislative and public policy spokesperson for the Church in Indiana, said he was not surprised the bill lacked the necessary support to pass.

“This is a very complex issue, and the solution is not clear cut,” he said. “While we were appreciative of Sen. Holdman’s efforts to find common ground in balancing civil rights of the LGBT community with religious liberty, the Church was unable to support the bill.”

Tebbe added that while the bill did provide some protections for religious institutions, the bill failed to recognize religious liberty as an inherent and fundamental right, and did not provide protection for individuals and businesses on matters of conscience.

Holdman’s bill would have provided civil rights expansion for sexual orientation, but not gender identity. The bill prohibited discriminatory practices in acquisition or sale of real estate; housing; education; public accommodations; employment; the extending of credit; and public contracts based on military active duty status; or sexual orientation. The bill also would have provided some protections for religious liberty for institutions.

“After several months of honest, good faith discussion, it is apparent that SB 344 lacks the support in the Senate to move forward,” Holdman said, “and as a result, I will not be calling the bill for further debate.”

The senator said he is “greatly, greatly disappointed,” and added, “We have let down our LGBT friends and our … friends in the faith community.” Holdman described his bill as a balanced approach, which he felt would have been a step forward for Indiana.

“No one supports unjust discrimination of anyone, which includes discrimination regarding one’s exercise of faith,” Tebbe said. “No one should be coerced or forced to participate in or facilitate behavior contrary to one’s conscience.

“The proponents of LGBT civil rights appear to have the understanding that religious freedom only extends to worship in one’s congregation or in one’s home,” he continued. “Catholics and all Christians are called to put our faith into practice in our daily lives. Religious freedom requires the opportunity to live and conduct one’s private and public life in accord with one’s conscience and faith. One must be able to walk the talk.”

Holdman said that it did not appear that the time was right to move this issue forward, and he deeply regretted it.

“The underlying issue is not going to go away,” he said, but added he was hopeful that all those involved could come together to reach a compromise. Holdman warned that if lawmakers fail to reach a compromise, there is a real possibility that the courts could make the determination without them.

Sen. David C. Long, R-Fort Wayne, who serves as Senate president pro tempore, echoed Holdman’s remarks, saying, “If we don’t forge a solution, the courts will. I fear religious freedom and liberty will be the loser if the courts decide the issue.”

Long said that courts are “aggressively stepping in” when the legislature fails to act. He attributed the demise of the legislation to “extreme messaging” from those on both sides of the issue. Long said an attitude of “my way or the highway” doesn’t work in the legislative process. He said that as a result of this kind of thinking, nothing is happening on the issue this year. But he added, “Our state is better for having had this discussion.”

Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, who serves as Senate minority leader, said a solution is “not that complicated.” He added that he felt the issue was not moving forward because of concerns that were “fueled by fear.”

“The issue requires thoughtful and respectful dialogue,” Tebbe said. “We urge all people of good will to show mutual respect for one another,” he continued, “so that dialogue and discernment can take place to ensure that no one in Indiana will face discrimination whether it is for their sexual orientation or for living their religious beliefs.”
 

(Brigid Curtis Ayer is a correspondent for The Criterion. For more information about the Indiana Catholic Conference, its Indiana Catholic Action Network and the bills it is following in the Indiana General Assembly this year, log on to www.indianacc.org.)

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