Gay rights bill passes Ind. Senate committee

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INDIANAPOLIS (WANE/AP) – The Indiana Senate Rules and Legislative Procedures Committee has passed a bill to extend civil rights to gay, lesbian and bisexual people.

Transgender rights are not included in the bill.

The bill passed by a 7-5 vote Wednesday night. Senate Bill 344 is authored by Sen. Travis Holdman (R-Markle).

The measure was proposed in the wake of a religious objections law passed last year that critics said would allow discrimination against gay people.

Republicans say it’s a sign of progress. But Democrats criticized the measure for not addressing transgender people. They also objected to broad religious exemptions it contains that they say would still allow discrimination.

The bill was panned by the business community for not going far enough. Evangelicals also oppose it saying it will diminish religious freedoms.

The bill now goes to the full Senate where it’s unclear if the measure will pass.

The Senate Rules and Legislative Procedures Committee has a good showing of senators from northeast Indiana. In addition to Holdman, Sen David Long (R-Fort Wayne) chairs the committee. He is joined by fellow republican Sen. Dennis Kruse (R-Auburn). The 12-member committee has 8 republicans and 4 democrats.

The 7-5 vote had ever democrat voting against the measure, along with Kruse, according to the Indy Star.

SB 344 also has a fix for the state’s RFRA that passed last year. The measure essentially repeals the act.

According to Holdman’s office, some of the major provisions in the bill include:

  • Adds sexual orientation, active duty military status and veteran status as protected classes in Indiana’s civil rights laws for employment, housing, and public accommodations.
  • Calls for a legislative study committee to examine the topic of discrimination based on gender identity.
  • Provides exemptions to the sexual orientation provisions for clergy, religious organizations, and small businesses of five or fewer employees engaged in marriage-related activities (same as current employer exemption in Indiana civil rights law).
  • Replaces Indiana’s RFRA law by codifying the existing “material burden” standard of judicial review established by the Indiana Supreme Court for claims involving Hoosiers’ state constitutional rights to freedom of speech, thought, conscience, religion, the press, and assembly. This would return Indiana to the same legal standard for these core constitutional rights that existed before RFRA was enacted last year.
  • Prohibits government entities from taking discriminatory action against clergy or religious organizations based on actions taken in accordance with their religious beliefs regarding marriage.
  • Mirrors federal law in allowing religious-affiliated state contractors to limit their hiring to people who follow the organization’s teachings.
  • Prohibits government entities from denying any license, including a marriage license, to a person based on their lawful activities related to marriage or sexual orientation.
  • Maintains all local civil rights ordinances as they existed on Dec. 31, 2015. Prohibits new local ordinances from differing with state law regarding what classes are covered and what penalties can be levied.

Holdman said in an email statement, “This legislation represents a good-faith effort to balance religious liberty and civil rights protections for gay and lesbian Hoosiers,” Holdman said. “We all know this is a contentious issue, but I believe it’s one the General Assembly must address and I look forward to continuing the discussion in the days ahead.”

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