Indiana legislative committee will examine LGBT civil rights

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana lawmakers said Wednesday that they will have a committee study the possibility of adding LGBT civil rights protections into state law after refusing to do so last year when the state drew widespread criticism over a religious objections law that critics said amounted to an invitation to discriminate against gay people.

Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma and GOP Senate leader David Long said it makes sense to study the matter in the coming months because the debate over the issue has dominated discussions in recent legislative sessions.

Bosma said that would “let people think about it a little bit” before lawmakers return next January.

Indiana drew widespread criticism last year after the Republican-led Legislature passed its religious objections law, which opponents said could be used to deny services to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Under pressure from big businesses, lawmakers watered down the law, but the possibility of adopting statewide LGBT civil rights protections has been hotly debated since then.

Several bills that would have created varying degrees of employment, housing and public accommodation protections for the gay community were debated last year, but none advanced.

The effort this summer will be headed up by the Interim Study Committee on Courts and the Judiciary. Any recommendations it makes could be used to develop legislation next session.

Long said a recent ruling by President Barack Obama‘s administration requiring schools to allow students to use bathrooms that conform with their gender identity created an additional policy wrinkle that will need to be discussed.

“This administration is trying to throw as many grenades at society as they can before they leave office,” Long said. “It’s an interpretation by an agency of the government that will now change society in America in their eyes in a dramatic way, and it is a complete overreach from the federal government.”

Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed the rights of gays and lesbians to marry, the use of bathrooms by transgender people has emerged as the latest hot button issue in the culture wars. Many social conservatives argue that allowing people to use bathrooms that conform with their gender identity, instead of their sex at birth, could pose a safety risk because it could lead to sexual offenders dressed as women entering women’s bathrooms. Transgender rights advocates have countered that social conservatives are using the issue as a scare tactic and have not provided any proof to back up their claims.

Bosma said the Obama administration’s involvement in school bathroom use at the local level was “absolutely ridiculous,” but he added that the overarching issue was “worthy of a discussion.”

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