CLICK HERE to read the original article on Herald-Tribune.
By Brian Howey Syndicated Columnist
INDIANAPOLIS – Within hours after state Sen. Travis Holdman, Markle, announced Senate Bill 100 Nov. 16, legislation that would expand civil rights protections to include sexual orientation in the context of protecting religious liberties, the story was picked up on news Web sites coast to coast. This will be a national story this winter, with Indiana’s brand and reputation in the crosshairs, just as it was last March and April when Gov. Mike Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that ignited a conspicuous controversy, leading the way to this.
We don’t know where Governor Pence will land on this coming legislation. He said Dec. 1, “I’ve come to no conclusion on the issue. No one in Indiana supports discrimination against anyone. But we are a state with a Constitution and that Constitution guarantees certain fundamental protections and freedom of religion and freedom of conscience are central to that. Sorting those out, seeing if we can reconcile those two great principles continues to be our focus.”
Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Gregg lines up with Freedom Indiana, urging the “four words and a comma” stance. As Chris Paulsen of the LGBT advocacy group explains, “We’re looking to add four words and a comma into our existing law: Sexual orientation, comma, gender identity.”
The other two key players are the Republican legislative leaders, House Speaker Brian Bosma of Indianapolis and Senate President Pro Tempore David Long of Fort Wayne. Bosma is calling this coming sequence the “heaviest lift” of his career.
“My hope is that we can reconcile two deeply-held Hoosier beliefs: No. 1, everyone should be free to live in accordance with their own conscience,” Bosma said. “And, 2, Hoosiers don’t like discrimination. It doesn’t matter what class you’re in, what category you’re in, you’ve got these two very deeply-held beliefs. So, my hope is that we can find a position where responsible conservative Republican leaders can stand together, recognizing the freedom of conscience, as well as recognizing we shouldn’t be discriminating against people based on who they are.”
I asked Bosma to define the phrase “freedom of conscience.” He responded, saying, “This is where the reconciliation gets a little difficult. Most people I have spoken with agree a same-sex couple shouldn’t be asked to leave a restaurant or be denied a hotel room. Where the rub begins is where (people are) required to participate in a marriage ceremony they disagree with. That’s the delicate spot to find. It may not be possible.”
Long worked with Holdman to craft SB100. Holdman raised some eyebrows when he told the South Bend Tribune, “To be honest, I’m not real concerned about extending protections to the LGBT community. My concern really is with extending religious liberty.”
Long believes that dealing with this issue is far more complex than the “four words and a comma.” He explained, “We come at this with a bill that tries to balance civil rights with religious liberty. It’s a unique bill in the country. It does provide protection for churches and their organizational attachments, such as schools, businesses associated with the church and for pastors, so they are exempted from the law. But, it also tries to focus on some of the cutting-edge difficult issues of the day. For instance, how do you know someone is actually, honestly dealing with a gender identity issue? There’s not a really good explanation out there.”
According to the Williams Center at the UCLA Law School, 0.3 percent of the U.S. population, or about 780,000 Americans, are transgender. Among the 6.5 million Hoosiers, this translates to 19,000, though Indiana University’s Kinsey Institute believes Indiana is below the national average, but that still means there could be 10,000 to 15,000 Indiana citizens in this demographic.
Long asks, “How do you define that? We don’t want people to say, ‘Today I woke up and felt differently and I’m going to dress (differently) and I’m going to start showering in the women’s showers and using the women’s bathroom.’ That is a real-time problem for us right now.”
So Indiana lawmakers are in for one of the most unusual debates beginning next month. “I’m telling my guys there is no caucus bind on this,” Long said. “We are not twisting arms. We want everyone to ultimately vote their consciences on this, to do what’s the right thing to do. We need to have this discussion in Indiana. There’s no sweeping it under the rug.”
“We don’t know if a bill can pass the Senate right now,” Long said. “We don’t know if the Democrats will support it. They have their own version.”
There will be huge political ramifications for Governor Pence, who is being pulled by the business wing of his party to expand civil rights, and the social conservatives, who want a line drawn in the sand.
My sources in the House say that of the 71 Republicans, less than 15 will support anything. With the 29 Democrats that Minority Leader Scott Pelath says will be inclined to vote as a bloc, it will take at least 22 Republicans to get something passed.
With the governor offering little leadership, Long and Holdman are trying to thread the policy needle as a state and nation watches.SHARE THIS STORY