GOSHEN, Ind. — Officials in a second northern Indiana city have backed off expanding anti-discrimination protections to include sexual orientation and gender identity following a push by opponents against the proposals.
Goshen Mayor Allan Kauffman said he and City Council members agreed a vote wouldn’t be taken on the proposed ordinance during a council meeting Tuesday night and that any action would be delayed until at least next year.
The mayor in the nearby city of Elkhart last week asked for council members there to withdraw a similar ordinance drafted following the national uproar this spring over Indiana’s new religious objections law, which critics maintained was anti-gay.
Kauffman, a Democrat who has been mayor since 1997, blamed “misinformation and confusion” from opponents over the proposal’s impact.
“Based on the tone of many emails and phone calls received, there is concern that public input based on misinformation will be unduly negative and paint Goshen as less welcoming than it really is,” Kauffman said in a statement.
The campaign against the Goshen and Elkhart proposals was sparked a few weeks ago by Eric Miller, executive director of Indianapolis-based Advance America and a leading supporter of the religious objection law.
Miller urged those at an Elkhart church gathering last month to work against the proposals, saying their defeat would hurt a push for the General Assembly to adopt similar statewide sexual orientation protections.
Kauffman said some points made in fliers distributed by Advance America are unfounded, including that the proposal would permit men to claim they are transgender in order to enter female restrooms and dressing rooms.
“They’re ridiculous arguments,” Kauffman told The Goshen News. “But these groups like Eric’s have a lot of influence, and people seem to be listening to them.”
Miller denied that he was stirring up fears and said Tuesday he was telling the truth about what the proposals would allow.
“The people are not at all confused about the impact of both the ordinances,” Miller told The Associated Press.
Following the outcry when Republican Gov. Mike Pence signed the religious objections law in late March, the GOP-dominated Legislature quickly approved revisions prohibiting businesses from using the law as a legal defense for refusing on religious grounds to provide services, goods, facilities or accommodations.
Indianapolis, South Bend and Evansville are among Indiana cities with local ordinances prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Other communities, including Hammond, Terre Haute and Columbus, have adopted or taken up similar proposals in recent months.
Miller said he didn’t know yet whether his group would campaign against such proposals in more cities.
“We’ll be glad to look at any other locations if we are invited to get involved and if the need arises,” he said.
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