Deeply Flawed Non-Discrimination Bill Advances in Indiana With Dangerous Religious Refusal Language

by Stephen Peters

The legislation unacceptably leaves transgender Hoosiers at risk of discrimination, undermines existing protections for race and religion, and also removes the authority of municipalities to pass new, fully inclusive LGBT non-discrimination protections

WASHINGTON – Tonight, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization, responded to a vote in the Indiana Senate Rules & Legislative Procedure Committee to advance deeply flawed legislation that would unacceptably exclude any and all protections for transgender Hoosiers, would undermine existing protections for race and religion, and would remove the authority of municipalities to pass any new, fully inclusive LGBT non-discrimination protections at the local level. In addition, the proposal now includes a dangerous amendment that is similar to the discriminatory Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) law that passed last year, and it eliminates the so-called “fix” the Legislature eventually passed.

The legislation is a thinly-veiled attempt to allow discrimination to go forward but mitigate the economic and reputational damage still looming from Gov. Mike Pence’s discriminatory RFRA fight last year. Earlier this week, a new report estimated the state of Indiana lost $60 million as the result of last year’s effort to discriminate against LGBT people; nevertheless today, state lawmakers passed this new discriminatory legislation -- Senate Bill 344 -- out of committee by a vote of 7 to 5.

“Once again, Indiana lawmakers are trying to pass a bill that unacceptably leaves LGBT Hoosiers at continued risk of discrimination, and now even includes dangerous RFRA-like language attached as an amendment that strips away last year’s so-called ‘fix’,” said HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow. “S.B. 344 is deeply flawed across a number of areas, but most importantly, it would leave transgender Hoosiers behind. With the new amendment attached, it could now also allow anyone to wield religion as a sword of discrimination. We implore the Indiana Legislature to abandon this dangerous legislation, and instead seek to pass fully inclusive non-discrimination protections that would truly safeguard LGBT Hoosiers and visitors from discrimination.”

Several amendments were added to the legislation during today’s hearing and make S.B. 344 even more alarming. In addition to enshrining a RFRA-like standard minus last year’s RFRA “fix,” another amendment added would allow adoption agencies to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, even if they receive state funding.

An additional non-discrimination bill – Senate Bill 100 – was also on the agenda in committee tonight. It also falls far short of the full protections LGBT Hoosiers need and deserve. While seeking to update Indiana’s civil rights law, it would override existing municipal civil rights protections, write broad religious exemptions into law, and undermine existing protections for other protected characteristics such as race and religion, among other serious problems.

Bills that would provide the protections the LGBT community urgently needs have been introduced, but have so far seen no movement. Democratic Senate minority leader Timothy Lanane has introduced legislation – Senate Bill 2 – that would amend the state’s existing non-discrimination laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity, among other categories. Republican Senator Ron Alting has also introduced similar legislation – Senate Bill 170 – that would update the state’s non-discrimination laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity. An incredible 70 percent of Hoosierssupport passing LGBT non-discrimination protections.

Lawmakers are poorly attempting to address the damning evidence that continues to emerge from the destruction caused to Indiana’s economy with Pence’s discriminatory RFRA fight last year. A brand new survey from Visit Indy shows Indiana lost as much as $60 million in convention revenue alone because of the discriminatory law. As reported by the Associated Press on Monday, “12 out-of-state groups were surveyed and all said that the state’s controversial religious objections law played a role in their decision to hold their events elsewhere.” Just last week, the Indianapolis Star reported on a new poll that shows economic and reputational damage still looms from last year’s debacle, especially in the tourism industry. In an additional survey, Indianapolis was rated the second worst convention city in the nation for “bad publicity that might deter meeting planners from picking a city.” Following the catastrophe last spring, HRC released a case study last April of the damage Governor Pence and anti-LGBT lawmakers caused in their push for the discriminatory law. In a poll conducted by HRC, a stunning 75 percent of Hoosiers reported that the law damaged Indiana’s business climate.

At least 6 anti-LGBT bills are under consideration in Indiana this year. After repeated calls by HRC and others to stop an extreme anti-LGBT “Super RFRA” from moving forward, Senate Bill 66 suffered a major setback today and is beingdescribed by some as “dead” in committee. One vehemently discriminatory bill attacking transgender Hoosiers – Senate Bill 35 – seeks to criminalize transgender people for using facilities consistent with their gender identity. The anti-LGBT legislation in Indiana is part of an onslaught of bills being pushed in 2016 by anti-equality activists around the country. HRC is currently tracking nearly 150 anti-LGBT bills in 27 states. For more information, visit:

HRC is a founding member of Freedom Indiana – the statewide grassroots organization fighting to update existing Indiana laws against discrimination to include LGBT Hoosiers.

The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. HRC envisions a world where LGBT people are embraced as full members of society at home, at work and in every community.


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