Senate committee advances gay civil rights bill; legislation excludes transgender protections Source: Evansville Courier & Press • January 27, 2016

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By Zach Osowski

INDIANAPOLIS — After more than five hours of testimony and debate, the Senate Rules Committee advanced a bill that would add sexual orientation to Indiana’s civil rights law.

Senate Bill 344, authored by Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, passed out of committee by a 7-5 vote. It will now go to a full vote in the Senate, where it faces an uncertain future.

“Its fate is unknown at this time,” Senate President David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said before voting in favor of the bill. “But it will get a hearing.”

Holdman and others admitted the bill needs some work, but those in favor of the bill said they want to see it get a full vote.

“This is a part of the process,” Sen. Brandt Hershman, R-Buck Creek, said. “This is a boat to get us to the next point.”

All four Democrats on the committee, as well as Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, voted against the bill.

The vote came after four hours of testimony on SB 344 and Senate Bill 100, which was not called for a vote.

Both bills were authored by Holdman, who said this has been a very long process trying to balance civil rights for the LGBT community, which he said is “the right thing to do,” with his deep convictions that religious freedom needs to be protected.

While Senate Bill 100 would have added sexual orientation and gender identity, SB 344 dropped the gender identity stipulation. If the bill is passed as written, the issue of transgender individuals would instead be studied over the summer.

The lack of gender identity’s inclusion was the reason the Democrats said they voted nay.

“We have to include the transgender community if we’re going to have equal rights for all,” Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, said before voting no.

SB 344 also has extensive carve-outs for religious organizations, including a few amendments that were added to the bill that broadened those exemptions. Holdman said various groups, such as adoption agencies and pregnancy centers, came to him asking for inclusion. Holdman said the groups are religious but not necessarily affiliated to a church and still deserve protections. The amendments passed along party lines.

Although it became emotional, the testimony was civil, as those for and against the bill traded places at the podium. Some said both bills would irreparably harm Indiana’s religious freedom, while others claimed the bills didn’t go far enough in their protections.

Indiana Chamber President Kevin Brinegar said passing either SB 100 or SB 344 was important for the Indiana economy.

“Normally we don’t comment on social issues,” Brinegar said. “But this debate has a profound impact on Indiana’s economic outlook.”

Even those in support had concerns about SB 344 because of the lack of rights for transgender individuals. Brinegar and Indiana University Law Professor Deborah Widiss were just two examples of people in favor of updating civil rights, but against SB 344.

Both Widiss and Brinegar said the omission of gender identity made the law incomplete. Widiss also had a problem with the multitude of carve-outs for religious organizations.

“The religious exemptions are unusually broad,” Widiss said. “Especially compared to other states.”

She even went on to say, after questions from Lanane, that she believed the law could possibly allow some hospitals to deny service to gay people because of the hospitals’ religious convictions.

Barronnelle Stutzman, a florist from the state of Washington, and Melissa Klein, a cake baker from Oregon, both testified against the bill. Their stories were similar. Both of them were subject to lawsuits after refusing to work a same-sex wedding because of their religious beliefs.

“People said horrible things to us. We lost our dream business,” Klein said, breaking down at the podium during her testimony. “Please don’t pass these bills.”

Members of the LGBT community were against the bills but because they believed they don’t far enough in their protections. Rhiannon Carlson, transgender woman who is also an Iraq War veteran, said the bills are shameful.

“These bills are cowardly,” Carlson said. “I find it ironic that veteran status would be included but not transgender individuals.”

Korvin Bothwell, a transgender man, said the General Assembly doesn’t need a study committee to know transgender people have a lot on their plate.

“Some people have a problem with people like me,” Bothwell said, “and this is why we need protections.”