Gay rights not part of state’s study-committee roster

State lawmakers will not conduct a public study of gay rights issues in Indiana in advance of the 2016 legislative session.

Legislative leaders on Thursday approved 40 topics for work by summer study committees, but adding sexual orientation to the state’s civil rights law was not one.

Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said that doesn’t mean the issue won’t be discussed; it just won’t be in a public committee. Instead, the debate will “go on quietly through the summer,” he said.

The leaders’ decision not to move forward with a public gay rights debate comes roughly two months after a battle over the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act prompted outrage from across the country.

Critics said the law would allow businesses to discriminate against gay customers and lawmakers scrambled to try to fix it. At the time, House and Senate leaders said they would start a conversation about banning discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Democrats said that should occur in a study committee this summer. But on Thursday, the Legislative Council – a group of leaders from the House and Senate – decided not to formalize the discussion. That frustrated Democratic leaders.

“This isn’t about politics, this is about what we are going to do public policy wise to show that Indiana is a truly welcoming state,” said Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson. “Waiting another year is out of the question.”

Critics of the RFRA law say that the state’s reputation will not fully recover until there are statewide civil rights protections for gays.

Gov. Mike Pence, a Republican, has said putting gay rights into state law is not part of his agenda and he defended the controversial state law as a protection of Hoosiers’ rights to exercise their religious beliefs.

Still, Lanane said he has a positive outlook for the future of gay rights in Indiana. “No matter how hard they try to obstruct it, our governor and his allies in the legislature cannot hold back progress any longer,” he said.

“We know what everyday Hoosiers know, that there’s no place for discrimination in the Hoosier state,” Lanane said. “We’ll continue to fight to make that a reality.”

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