LGBT

Indiana Lawmakers Have A Strange Idea Of How To Make Their State More LGBT-Friendly (Updated)

CREDIT: AP Photo/Michael Conroy

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence will give his State of the State address Tuesday night.

If Indiana lawmakers actually want to repair the image of their state to make it seem more LGBT-friendly, they have odd ideas for how to do that. After last year’s public relations debacle over the passage of a Religious Freedom Restoration Act, there are now at least four bills that address LGBT issues — all of which fall short of actually protecting LGBT people from discrimination.

One of the newest bills mirrors similar legislation already introduced that purports to create nondiscrimination protections; in fact, the same lawmaker introduced both. The latest plan from Sen. Travis Holdman (R) is a variation of the first that weakens the protections it offers but allows preexisting protections to remain more robust.

Holdman’s original bill, SB 100, is arguably the most anti-LGBT LGBT rights bill every introduced in any legislature. Though it technically establishes sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes, it contains countless carveouts that would make enforcement of those protections incredibly unlikely. One of its measures was a “preemption” clause, which would nullify any local jurisdictions’ nondiscrimination protections if they extended beyond what the bill established as state law. Cities and counties with LGBT protections would thus be subjected to the state measure’s countless exemptions that enable discrimination.

In his new bill, SB 344, Holdman weakens this preemption clause slightly. Any ordinance that was already in effect by December 31, 2015 could remain in place, but other municipalities would not be allowed to pass new ordinances that extend beyond the state law. His compromise for this marginal leniency is dropping “gender identity” from the bill entirely.

Thus, SB 344 would leave transgender people completely unprotected from discrimination except for those places in the state where they are already protected: Marion and Monroe counties, and the cities of Bloomington, Evansville, Indianapolis, New Albany, South Bend, West Lafayette, and Carmel. Those would become the only safe havens for transgender people, because no other municipality would ever be permitted under state law to extend gender identity protections.

These limited trans protections would likely not offer much if Sen. Jim Tomes’s bill, SB 35, passes. As ThinkProgress previously explained, it would prohibit any accommodations for transgender students in schools and would criminalize the use of bathrooms by transgender adults.

To top it all off, Rep. Jim Lucas (R) wants to abolish all marriage licenses. HB 1041 would completely remove the state from the business of sanctioning marriages; people would just draw up their own contracts. It wouldn’t necessarily impact how accessible marriage is to same-sex couples, but it’s still a bill designed to accommodate state officials who don’t want to recognize same-sex marriages.

So far, that is a total of four different bills related to LGBT rights. Two of them explicitly claim to create protections for LGBT (or LGB) people, but in fact do quite the opposite. It seems that nobody actually supports them, with conservatives saying that any LGBT protection is a problem, and LGBT groups, like Freedom Indiana, calling the bills “complicated attempts to cure a problem that requires a very simple solution.”

All eyes are on Gov. Mike Pence (R), who will give his State of the State address Tuesday night and perhaps speak out on LGBT issues for the first time in months. Groups like the National Organization for Marriage are urging him to reject any LGBT protections.

Given his past opposition to such protections and willingness to dismiss concerns over Indiana’s RFRA, he may just join the Indiana House Republicans in not making LGBT protections a priority whatsoever.

UPDATE JAN 12, 2016 7:13 PM

In his speech, Pence said that he believes "Hoosiers do not tolerate discrimination against anybody, and Hoosiers cherish faith and the freedoms enshrined in our constitution." He also said that "no one should be harassed or mistreated because of who they are, who they love, or what they believe."

But he made it clear: "I will not support any bill that diminishes the religious freedom of Hoosiers or that interferes with the Constitutional rights of our citizens to live out their beliefs in worship, service, or work."

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