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By Mike Perleberg
(Indianapolis, Ind.) – Indiana Governor Mike Pence is pushing for lawmakers to strengthen religious freedom over enacting new protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Hoosiers.
In his fourth state of the state speech last night, Pence called 2015 a year of progress on many fronts. He touted tax cuts, a balanced budget, and the launch of Healthy Indiana Plan 2.0. The first term Republican asked lawmakers to approve new road and infrastructure funding without tax increases, creating harsher penalties for drug dealers, improving the ISTEP test and holding schools and teachers harmless for the 2015 test results.
It wasn’t until the end of his speech that Pence touched on the LGBT rights debate that has overshadowed Indiana for the past 10 months. The debate has been happening since Pence signed a religious objections law, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, last year.
“Our State Constitution declares that ‘all people are created equal,’ and I believe that no one should be harassed or mistreated because of who they are, who they love, or what they believe. We cherish the dignity and worth of all our citizens. We are an open and welcoming state that respects everyone. And anybody who does not know that does not know Indiana,” Pence said.
Before Tuesday night, Pence was reluctant to stay where he stood on proposals to add protections for LGBT citizens into Indiana law. The opinion voiced by the socially conservative governor wasn’t what LGBT rights supporters had hoped to hear.
Pence said he will not support any bill that diminishes religious freedom or interferes with the constitutional rights of citizens to live out their beliefs in worship, service, or work.
“Hoosiers also cherish faith and the freedom to live out their faith in their daily lives. Whether you worship in a church, synagogue, temple or mosque, religion brings meaning to the daily lives of millions of Hoosiers. And, no one should ever fear persecution because of their deeply-held religious beliefs,” Pence said.
The governor said that the Indiana Supreme Court has made it clear that the Indiana Constitution protects both belief and practice.
“Our constitution not only protects the ‘right to worship Almighty God… according to the dictates of (our) own consciences,’ but, it also provides that ‘No law shall, in any case whatever, control the free exercise and enjoyment of religious opinions, nor interfere with the rights of conscience,’” he said.
Pence told state lawmakers listening that legislation sent to his desk must be consistent with the state constitution. The question before the representatives and senators, he said, “is whether it is necessary or even possible to reconcile these two values in the law without compromising the freedoms we hold dear.”
Pence’s doubling-down on religious protections despite the RFRA rift didn’t sit well with gay rights supporters. Freedom Indiana, an organization fighting to update Indiana’s civil rights law, released a statement calling Pence’s downplaying of the LGBT rights issue “a complete letdown.”
“In his speech tonight, after 10 months of allegedly listening to Hoosiers, Governor Pence chose to punt the critical issue of civil rights protections for gay and transgender people to Indiana lawmakers. We are disappointed in his lack of leadership on an update that we know a majority of people in our state support,” said Freedom Indiana campaign manager Chris Paulsen.
Indiana House Democrat Leader Scott Pelath said Pence is avoiding a mess he helped create by signing the RFRA legislation last year.
“And if you think that washing your hands of legislation to end discrimination shows Solomonic wisdom, I think you are avoiding a mess you helped create for our state. There is a simple answer: add four words and a comma to Indiana’s civil rights statute to protect Hoosiers for their sexual orientation and gender identity, and the problem goes away,” Pelath said in a statement.
“Indiana House Democrats stand ready to help in improving our economy, our schools and our state’s reputation. It would have been nice for our chief executive to show more leadership on these issues than he did tonight.”SHARE THIS STORY