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As Lawmakers Organize, LGBT Rights Debate Looms Large

Posted On November 17, 2015

By Mike Perleberg

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(Indianapolis, Ind.) – Hoosiers could see the details of a Republican plan that supporters say will protect lesbians and gays while at the same time protecting people’s religious freedoms at the same time.

The proposal is the latest effort to appease both those who back LGBT rights and social conservatives. In a nationally observed controversy this past spring, gay rights supporters called Indiana’s new Religious Freedom Restoration Act discriminatory. Backers of the “religious freedom” law were irked when state lawmakers and the governor signed a “fix” for it that put the first acknowledgement of “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” in state law in the context of anti-discrimination.

On Monday, Senate Majority Leader David Long (R-Fort Wayne) says the plan should put an end to Indiana’s on-going battle between religious freedom and civil rights protections for gays. Senator Travis Holdman (R-Markle), who has a reputation for guiding conservative legislation, could write and file the bill as soon as Tuesday when lawmakers meet for Organization Day.

“I can just tell you that there’ll be strong language in there for both civil rights and for religious freedom, and so we’ll just leave it at that,” Long said at an Indiana Chamber of Commerce event. “We’re trying to do our best to get a balanced piece of legislation.”

Republicans are facing pressures from varying sides of the gay rights issue. The party owns supermajorities in the House and Senate again for the 2016 legislative session. Religious conservatives would prefer the RFRA to be restored to its original form. Business interests, including the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, have joined Democrats in calling on lawmakers to add sexual orientation and gender identity to state laws banning discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodation in order to restore Indiana’s reputation as a welcoming place.

Supporters and opponents of expanded LGBT protections are expected to rally at the Indiana Statehouse on Tuesday. They include the conservative Indiana Pastors Alliance and Freedom Indiana, the political group which fought against passage of the RFRA last year.

Southeast Indiana’s lawmakers want to see the legislation before deciding if they’ll support it. State Representative Randy Frye (R-Greensburg) said he has been listening to the people.

“I’m not sure on the wording (of a LGBT protections bill), but I’m willing to listen and learn,” said Frye, who added that he supports traditional marriage.

New State Representative Randy Lyness (R-West Harrison), who recently replaced former rep Jud McMillin following his resignation two months ago, said he anticipates a very thoughtful and thorough discussion on the topic during the session.

“As someone who is fairly new to the state legislature, I will be listening to all sides of this issue before I make any decisions,” Lyness said.

In an email touching on other issues – transportation, education, economy – that will receive much attention in the 2016 legislative session, State Senator Chip Perfect (R-Lawrenceburg) said that all can agree that we are in a period with an unprecedented rate of change.

“Of course addressing issues in our changing society are a challenge as well. There are those who want to make sure that the debate on Religious Freedom and the rights of individuals, including those in the LGBT community dominate the session. This debate will likely overshadow all else in the session since it has national implications. It will be a challenging session,” Perfect said.