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Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Ind. Gov't. - "Pence punts LGBT civil rights question to Legislature"

That is the headline to Dan Carden's story in the NWI Times. Some quotes:

The governor tried to carefully thread a course between the two sides by insisting Hoosiers do not tolerate discrimination of any kind, while Hoosiers also cherish the religious liberties enshrined in Indiana's Constitution.

Pence said he's not certain whether it is possible, or even necessary, to reconcile those two values, and did not endorse any of the nearly one dozen legislative proposals seeking to do so.

Instead, he signaled that any anti-discrimination legislation lacking significant exceptions for individuals or organizations that might possibly be classified as religious would be met by his veto pen.

"I will not support any bill that diminishes the religious freedom of Hoosiers or interferes with the constitutional rights of our citizens to live out their beliefs in worship, service or work," Pence said.

In all, Pence spoke for less than four minutes on an issue that he claims to have been "studying" since April, when a hastily adopted fix to the 2015 Religious Freedom Restoration Act controversy put an end to threatened Indiana business and tourism boycotts from across the country.

State Rep. Linda Lawson, D-Hammond, said following the speech she can't believe Pence waited months to essentially say nothing on an issue that has roiled the General Assembly and made Indiana a national laughingstock.

"I'm disappointed. I'm really disappointed," Lawson said. "I believe in my heart that's he's absolutely wrong. It has nothing to do with religion. It's a discrimination issue."

From Niki Kelly's story in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette:
Gov. Mike Pence appeared to favor religious freedom over equality Tuesday night, saying he would not sign a bill that diminishes the rights of citizens to live out their beliefs in worship, service or work.

He addressed the controversy between faith and anti-discrimination protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Hoosiers at the end of his fourth State of the State address, and made clear the topic isn’t a priority.

“The question before you as the elected representatives of the people of Indiana is whether it is necessary, or even possible, to reconcile these two values in the law without compromising the freedoms we hold dear,” Pence told lawmakers assembled in the Indiana House.

Hoosiers have been waiting since March to see where the governor stands on the issue that thrust Indiana into a national spotlight. * * *

Pence did say he doesn’t believe anyone should be harassed or mistreated because of who they are, who they love or what they believe. But he focused more fervently on freedom of faith.

“Hoosiers also cherish faith and the freedom to live out their faith in their daily lives,” Pence said. “No one should ever fear persecution because of their deeply held religious beliefs.”

Democrats and other supporters of adding gender identity and sexual orientation to the state civil rights code along with gender, race and national origin said Pence whiffed.

“He punted to the legislature and cloaked it in some hard-to-understand principles in an effort to simply have the whole matter go away,” said House Democrat Leader Scott Pelath of Michigan City.

Mike Perleberg reports at Eagle County 93.3FM in a story headed "Pence Doubles Down On Religious Freedom Over LGBT Rights":
Indiana Governor Mike Pence is pushing for lawmakers to strengthen religious freedom over enacting new protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Hoosiers. * * *

It wasn’t until the end of his speech that Pence touched on the LGBT rights debate that has overshadowed Indiana for the past 10 months. The debate has been happening since Pence signed a religious objections law, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, last year. * * *

Before Tuesday night, Pence was reluctant to stay where he stood on proposals to add protections for LGBT citizens into Indiana law. The opinion voiced by the socially conservative governor wasn’t what LGBT rights supporters had hoped to hear.

Pence said he will not support any bill that diminishes religious freedom or interferes with the constitutional rights of citizens to live out their beliefs in worship, service, or work.

“Hoosiers also cherish faith and the freedom to live out their faith in their daily lives. Whether you worship in a church, synagogue, temple or mosque, religion brings meaning to the daily lives of millions of Hoosiers. And, no one should ever fear persecution because of their deeply-held religious beliefs,” Pence said.

The governor said that the Indiana Supreme Court has made it clear that the Indiana Constitution protects both belief and practice.

“Our constitution not only protects the ‘right to worship Almighty God… according to the dictates of (our) own consciences,’ but, it also provides that ‘No law shall, in any case whatever, control the free exercise and enjoyment of religious opinions, nor interfere with the rights of conscience,’” he said.

Pence told state lawmakers listening that legislation sent to his desk must be consistent with the state constitution. The question before the representatives and senators, he said, “is whether it is necessary or even possible to reconcile these two values in the law without compromising the freedoms we hold dear.”

Pence’s doubling-down on religious protections despite the RFRA rift didn’t sit well with gay rights supporters. Freedom Indiana, an organization fighting to update Indiana’s civil rights law, released a statement calling Pence’s downplaying of the LGBT rights issue “a complete letdown.”

“In his speech tonight, after 10 months of allegedly listening to Hoosiers, Governor Pence chose to punt the critical issue of civil rights protections for gay and transgender people to Indiana lawmakers. We are disappointed in his lack of leadership on an update that we know a majority of people in our state support,” said Freedom Indiana campaign manager Chris Paulsen.

Indiana House Democrat Leader Scott Pelath said Pence is avoiding a mess he helped create by signing the RFRA legislation last year.

“And if you think that washing your hands of legislation to end discrimination shows Solomonic wisdom, I think you are avoiding a mess you helped create for our state. There is a simple answer: add four words and a comma to Indiana’s civil rights statute to protect Hoosiers for their sexual orientation and gender identity, and the problem goes away,” Pelath said in a statement.

[More] Here is the long Indianapolis Star story by Stephanie Wang, Chelsea Schneider and Brian Eason, headed "In LGBT rights debate, Pence urges lawmakers to guard religious freedom." A quote:
Pence's statement on religious freedom was made, in part, to reclaim support from religious Hoosiers, political analysts say.

“He has chosen his side — the religious extremists. The people who really do not believe that gay and lesbian Hoosiers should be entitled to equal rights. And he is certainly entitled to do that, but I think politically it was suicide,” said Sheila Suess Kennedy, a professor at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and former director of the Indiana Civil Liberties Union.

Paul Helmke, a former Republican mayor of Fort Wayne and now an Indiana University professor, said Pence was "trying to have it both ways."

“He clearly sides with the evangelical side of the issue, but I think he left the door open a little,” Helmke said. "I think it does put the business community on notice that he's leaning more the other way, but there's still possibly a chance they can get something through."

The way Pence handled the issue also sends a message that lawmakers will need to do the lifting, if anything is going to pass to his desk.

“He didn’t give any sort of indication he’s eager to sign a civil rights bill and that means it’s back to the legislature, and we’ll see what they do. Boy, when a governor sends a signal he’s not favorably disposed to changing the law, it doesn’t seem to suggest that the Republican supermajority is going to go through a lot of exertion to pass a bill with an uncertain future,” said Robert Dion, an University of Evansville professor.

Still, it remains unclear whether Pence would support any kind of legislation extending LGBT rights that lawmakers may hash out. Many conservative groups have said giving protected-class status based on sexual orientation or gender identity would elevate LGBT rights above religious rights, infringing on people's ability to live by their beliefs.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on January 13, 2016 10:10 AM
Posted to Indiana Government