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How This Openly Gay Student Body President Helped Foster LGBT Inclusion at Notre Dame Bryan Ricketts • Notre Dame
Hoosier lawmakers set to act on numerous controversial issues January 3, 2016 Source: NW Indiana Times

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By Dan Carden 

INDIANAPOLIS — The 119th Indiana General Assembly reconvenes Tuesday for a 10-week session that features no shortage of controversial and complicated issues.

The question of whether lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Hoosiers should be protected from discrimination in hiring, housing and public accommodations is shaping up to be the premier debate of the 2016 session.

At the same time, decisions on infrastructure, student testing, religious liberty, the teacher shortage and whether to spend a portion of Indiana’s $2.1 billion budget reserve to address those matters are expected to keep the Republican-controlled Legislature hopping until its March 14 mandatory adjournment.

Adding an extra political calculus to legislative decision-making this session is that all 100 representatives and half the 50 senators, along with Republican Gov. Mike Pence, are up for re-election in 2016.

Here’s a look at some of the major issues the General Assembly likely will tackle this year:

LGBT protections — Indiana law does not prohibit discrimination against LGBT individuals in most circumstances, a fact that became more widely known after the controversial 2015 Religious Freedom Restoration Act was rewritten to bar the denial of services to gays solely on religious grounds.

Following the negative nationwide reaction to RFRA, and the generally positive response to the June 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized gay marriage across the country, public opinion polls show a majority of Hoosiers now support adding four-words-and-a-comma to Indiana’s civil rights laws by including “sexual orientation, gender identity” as protected classes.

A number of business and community groups, including the powerful Indiana Chamber of Commerce, have come out in support of LGBT civil rights. Religious conservatives, including Pence, are grasping to find a compromise that provides sufficient protections, placates Christian groups opposed to homosexuality and gay rights, and avoids the heaping of national scorn on Indiana again.

Related to this issue for some lawmakers is the need for government regulations detailing who can use which bathrooms in public places.