By Brigid Curtis Ayer
INDIANAPOLIS — Religious liberty hangs in the balance as legislation to advance LGBT rights and provide some protections for religious liberty died Feb. 3 on the Senate floor.
Following a private meeting among Senate Republican leadership, Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, author of the LGBT civil rights bill, told lawmakers on the Senate floor he didn’t have the votes for his bill to pass so he was not going to call it for second reading.
Glenn Tebbe, executive director of the Indiana Catholic Conference said he was not surprised the bill lacked the necessary support to pass.
“This is a very complex issue, and the solution is not clear cut,” Tebbe said. “While we were appreciative of Sen. Holdman’s efforts to find common ground in balancing civil rights of the LGBT community with religious liberty, the Church was unable to support the bill.”
Tebbe went on to say that while SB 344 did provide some protections for religious institutions, the bill failed to recognize religious liberty as an inherent and fundamental right and did not provide protection for individuals and businesses on matters of conscience.
Holdman’s bill, Senate Bill 344, would have provided civil rights expansion for sexual orientation, but not gender identity. The bill prohibited discriminatory practices in acquisition or sale of real estate; housing; education; public accommodations; employment; the extending of credit; and public contracts based on military active duty status; or sexual orientation. The bill also would have provided some protections for religious liberty for institutions.
Holdman said, “After several months of honest, good-faith discussion, it is apparent that SB 344 lacks the support in the Senate to move forward, and as a result, I will not be calling the bill for further debate.” Holdman says he is “greatly, greatly disappointed.” He said, “We have let down our LGBT friends and our far right friends in the faith community.” Holdman described his bill as a balanced approach, which he felt would have been a step forward for Indiana.
Tebbe said, “No one supports unjust discrimination of anyone, which includes discrimination regarding one’s exercise of faith. No one should be coerced or forced to participate in or facilitate behavior contrary to one’s conscience.”
Tebbe said, “The proponents of LGBT civil rights appear to have the understanding that religious freedom only extends to worship in one’s congregation or in one’s home. Catholics and all Christians are called to put our faith into practice in our daily lives. Religious freedom requires the opportunity to live and conduct one’s private and public life in accord with one’s conscience and faith,” said Tebbe. “One must be able to walk the talk.”
Holdman said that it did not appear that the time was right to move this issue forward, and he deeply regretted it. Holdman also said, “The underlying issue is not going to go away,” but added he was hopeful that all those involved could come together to reach a compromise. Holdman warned that if lawmakers fail to reach a compromise, there is a real possibility that the courts could make the determination without them.
Senate President Pro Tempore, Sen. David C. Long, R-Fort Wayne, echoed Holdman’s remarks saying, “If we don’t forge a solution, the courts will. I fear religious freedom and liberty will be the loser if the courts decide the issue.”
Long said that courts are “aggressively stepping in” when the legislature fails to act. Long attributed the demise of the legislation to “extreme messaging” from those on both sides of the issue. Long said an attitude of “my way or the highway” doesn’t work in the legislative process. Long said that as a result of this kind of thinking, nothing is happening on the issue this year. But Long added, “Our state is better for having had this discussion.”
Senate Minority Leader, Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, said a solution is “not that complicated.” He added that he felt the issue was not moving forward because of concerns that were “fueled by fear.” Lanane also said that there is empirical evidence that last year’s RFRA debate, which stirred-up questions of discrimination towards members of the LGBT community, has hurt Hoosier businesses. Lanane vowed he was going to “fight for equal rights for everyone in the state.”
Tebbe said, “Balancing the rights of all is more complex than simply adding four words and a comma, as many advocated.” He said, “The issue requires thoughtful and respectful dialogue. We urge all people of good will to show mutual respect for one another so that dialogue and discernment can take place to ensure that no one in Indiana will face discrimination whether it is for their sexual orientation or for living their religious beliefs.”
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