More Indiana cities adopting sexual orientation protections

KOKOMO, Ind. (AP) — More cities across Indiana are working toward adopting local ordinances that ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity after a push for statewide protections failed in the General Assembly last month.

The Kokomo City Council voted 5-4 Monday night to give initial approval of a proposed ordinance after more than an hour of debate. Munster in northwestern Indiana could have similar rules adopted next month, while an Evansville city commission has been given more authority to investigate and enforce its local anti-bias law.

An audience packed the Kokomo council’s meeting room, with opponents saying they feared the ordinance’s exemptions for religious organizations could be eliminated in the future and that it would allow men claiming to be transgender to enter public women’s restrooms.

Supporters argued other cities around Indiana with similar ordinances haven’t had such problems and that the protections could help Kokomo attract businesses.

The Kokomo proposal would also add anti-discrimination protections related to a person’s marital status, age or veteran status, the Kokomo Tribune reported. The current city ordinance covers race, religion, gender, familial status, disability, national origin and ancestry.

“I believe it gives the city an economic advantage from other cities who have not taken this step to make sure everyone is welcome,” supporter Chuck Sosbe of Kokomo told WTHR-TV. “Hopefully that will bring more jobs and more businesses.”

Charles Riley, pastor of Abundant Life Church, said he worried about churches and religious organizations being covered by the ordinance in the future, saying “the exemption process cannot hold water.”

The Kokomo ordinance, which was proposed by Democratic Mayor Greg Goodnight, could get final council approval next Monday.

Carmel, Columbus and Terre Haute are among cities that have adopted similar protections since last spring’s uproar over Indiana’s religious objections law, which opponents say sanctioned discrimination against gays. Cities such as Indianapolis, South Bend and Fort Wayne previously had such anti-bias rules.

Those local ordinances would have been prohibited under a Republican-sponsored bill in the state Legislature that proposed extending state anti-discrimination protections to lesbian, gay and bisexual people. That bill was pulled from consideration in February as it faced criticism from both LGBT rights activists for not including transgender people and religious conservatives who believed it still required services for same-sex marriages even if they had religious objections.

The council in Munster, a wealthy suburban area of Lake County, is expected to vote April 18 on approving an LGBT protections ordinance.

A group of local residents began pushing for the ordinance last year after a Town Council speech by Munster resident Amy Sandler, who successfully sued to have her same-sex marriage recognized by the state before her spouse Niki Quasney died in February 2015 from ovarian cancer.

“Honestly, for me it was not something that I had thought about, but I jumped right on it,” Munster resident Ann Bochnowski told the Post-Tribune. “There should be nobody in this country that should have their rights abridged.”

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