Déjà Vu All Over Again: Indiana Sees Extreme Anti-LGBT “Super-RFRA” Advance in Legislature

by Stephen Peters

Despite the lingering damage inflicted on the state’s reputation and business climate during last year’s RFRA fight, a more dangerous proposal may advance this Wednesday

WASHINGTON – As Yogi Berra famously said, it’s déjà vu all over again. In a stunning development following last year’s divisive and disastrous Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) fight, Indiana lawmakers appear poised to double down on the debacle by considering an even more dangerous and extreme measure this Wednesday. In advance of a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Senate Bill 66, today the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization, blasted the proposal that could allow anyone who claims a religious exemption the right to discriminate against LGBT Hoosiers, visitors, and other minorities. The legislation is being pushed by extreme anti-LGBT Republican Senators Michael Young, Phil Boots, Jim Banks, and Dennis Kruse.

“It’s unbelievable that some Indiana lawmakers are ignoring the incredible damage they inflicted on the state last year with their disastrous anti-LGBT religious refusal law,” said HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow. “The new proposal is the old RFRA all over again. Lawmakers appear ready to put Indiana’s economy and reputation in reverse and floor it. I can’t imagine Hoosiers want to see their state make national headlines again for all the wrong reasons. This ‘super-RFRA’ is a dangerous attempt to allow people to use religion as an excuse to discriminate against LGBT Hoosiers, visitors, and other minorities. By stripping away the limited buffer put in place last year, the legislators have made crystal clear their true intentions.  Rather than trying to inflict even more damage and embarrassment on the state with this shameful legislation, lawmakers should fix the damage they caused by passing fully inclusive LGBT non-discrimination protections to move Indiana forward.”

The new proposal is even more dangerous than the state’s current RFRA, which triggered widespread outrage and damage to the state’s reputation and business climate last year. After demands from fair-minded Hoosiers and Indiana-based businesses to “fix” the disastrous law, Pence signed legislation trying to limit the damage by attempting to clarify the RFRA could not be used to opt out of select non-discrimination protections. That legislation unfortunately fell far short of providing a full solution because it failed to explicitly ensure that the RFRA could not be used to undermine the full scope of Indiana existing non-discrimination laws, and it did not add protections on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity to the state’s civil rights laws. Proposed as definitions for the state constitution, the new “super-RFRA” would strip away those clarifications that Pence signed regarding non-discrimination protections, swinging the door wide open for blatant discrimination against LGBT Hoosiers, visitors, and other minorities.

The state is still suffering from the fallout the current job-killing RFRA inflicted on the state. Just last week, the Indianapolis Star reported on a new poll that shows the damage still lingers from that disastrous battle, 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.”

In total, there are six anti-LGBT bills under consideration in Indiana’s legislature this year – including a vehemently discriminatory bill attacking transgender Hoosiers. Senate Bill 35, introduced by anti-LGBT Republican Senator Jim Tomes, seeks to criminalize transgender people for using restrooms or locker rooms consistent with their gender identity.

Two non-discrimination bills are also scheduled for a committee hearing on Wednesday, but they fall far short of the full protections that LGBT Hoosiers need and deserve. Senate Bill 100 claims to update Indiana’s civil rights law, but would actually override existing municipal civil rights protections and write broad religious exemptions into law, among other serious problems. Senate Bill 344 also seeks to update Indiana’s civil rights law, but it unacceptably excludes any and all protections for transgender Hoosiers.

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.

All this is happening while Governor Pence is either unwilling or incapable of showing the critical leadership Indiana needs to move forward. During his recent State of the State address, he once again failed to call for fully inclusive non-discrimination protections for all LGBT Hoosiers and visitors, instead siding with a position allowing religion to be wielded as a sword of discrimination. Pence is choosing to defy an incredible 70 percent of Hoosiers who support LGBT non-discrimination protections, as well as the business community which has been demanding action.

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 over 100 anti-LGBT bills in 26 states. These measures range from legislation attempting to undermine marriage equality; proposals aimed to authorize individuals, businesses, and taxpayer-funded agencies to cite religion as a legal reason to refuse goods or services to LGBT people; bills seeking to restrict or criminalize transgender people who use restrooms or locker rooms consistent with their gender identity; and even legislation aimed at eliminating the ability of local governments to protect LGBT residents and visitors. For more information, visit: www.hrc.org/2016legislature.

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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