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Friday, May 01, 2015

Ind. Gov't. - More on "Do local laws really protect rights of LGBT Hoosiers?"

Updating this ILB post from April 5th, which included quotes from the IndyStar's Stephanie Wang's story, here is a long follow-up story by Wang from April 28th, headed "Expanding LGBT rights one Indiana city at a time." Some quotes:

The patchwork of protections reflects some uncertainty over what cities can do when the state civil rights law doesn’t include sexual orientation or gender identity. But experts say it could serve as a testing ground for possible proposals for a state law shielding sexual orientation and gender identity, and help advance the issue in next year’s legislative session.

“Nobody’s really sure how these are supposed to work, with the tension between the right to be free from discrimination and the religious sensibilities of store owners,” said Indiana University law professor Robert Katz. “And so it creates sort of a laboratory of different cities and counties trying to calibrate that balance.”

It was likely an unintended consequence of Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or RFRA, to bring about a push for LGBT rights. The “religious freedom” law was, in many ways, a response from conservative Christians who were losing ground in their opposition to same-sex marriage. * * *

Expanding local ordinances to include sexual orientation and gender identity is “very dangerous,” said Ron Johnson, executive director of the Indiana Pastors Alliance.

“When you put somebody’s sexual behavior and sexual choices on the same level as someone’s skin color, I think you’re making a huge jump,” Johnson said.

He said it was “tyranny” to have city ordinances that would force him to violate his beliefs: “It is absolutely diametrically opposed to religious freedom.”

Another RFRA supporter, Curt Smith of the Indiana Family Institute, has said nondiscrimination laws that include sexual orientation and gender identity would be “bad public policy” but declined to elaborate.

But several legal experts who supported RFRA said Indiana also should have statewide LGBT protections.

“The fact of the matter is — I find this problematic — if you’re not in a city that has an anti-discrimination rule for sexual orientation, the business is not required to avoid that discrimination,” IU law professor Daniel Conkle said last month. “That’s why, in my judgment, it’s good to have a statewide anti-discrimination rule, which we currently do not have.”

With many lawmakers unwilling this year to consider expanding the state’s civil rights law — or to write such a broad provision into RFRA — some cities, such as Richmond, are uncertain and holding back on local changes.

“We don’t want anything that would just fill the courts with problems that would just be kicked back to us because it’s unenforceable,” said Richmond City Council President Ronald Oler.

He said he would be interested in revising the city’s rules — “I want us to be clear that we don’t discriminate for any reason” — but is waiting for the legal department’s advice.

But other cities are taking it upon themselves to pass local measures, with city officials saying they want to combat the perception left by RFRA that Indiana is unwelcoming, attract businesses and lure talented workers.

“Given the national climate and outcry against this law that the state passed, we wanted to make it perfectly clear that the city of Hammond, Indiana, has no intention of discriminating in any way,” said Hammond City Council member Janet Venecz, who last month authored the addition of sexual orientation and gender identity to the city’s human rights ordinance.

Related is this lengthy, April 22nd story from Vox, titled "Why it's legal to fire someone for being gay in 28 states." Reported by German Lopez, it begins:
In most states, a landlord can evict someone simply because he is gay — and it would be totally legal to do so.

The cause isn't a religious freedom law like the one that triggered a national firestorm in Indiana, which critics said would enable discrimination on religious grounds. Instead, 31 states, including Indiana, have long allowed discrimination against LGBT people because they don't include sexual orientation or gender identity in existing civil rights statutes. In these states, it's not religious freedom laws that allow discrimination; it's the lack of civil rights laws.

"If there's a 'license to discriminate,'" Robin Wilson, a law professor at the University of Illinois who helped write Utah's nondiscrimination law, said, "it's the fact that the state hasn't said this is an unacceptable basis for saying no to people."

Posted by Marcia Oddi on May 1, 2015 10:25 AM
Posted to Indiana Government