House speaker: LGBT rights law less likely after Pence speech

January 14, 2016

Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma said Thursday that there's less of a chance that the Legislature will approve civil rights protections for gay and transgender people following comments made by Gov. Mike Pence during his annual State of the State address this week.

Bosma said Pence established "ground rules" on the issue during the speech Tuesday, which he called the clearest statements he'd heard from Pence on the issue.

"It does make passage more difficult because I'm not certain that there is a solution on the table that meets the requirements the governor indicated he was looking for," Bosma said.

The Republican governor said he abhors discrimination, but added that "no one should ever fear persecution because of their deeply held religious beliefs." He showed no retreat from his stance during last spring's national uproar over the state's Religious Freedom Restoration Act, vowing not to 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."

Two measures before the Senate seek to address the issue. One bill would grant protections to anyone fired from a job, denied service, or evicted due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. It would offer a list of exemptions for clergy, small businesses and religious organizations. The other bill would do the same but excludes transgender people.

Indiana has been divided over the issue since Pence and GOP lawmakers adopted a religious freedom law in March that critics said sanctioned discrimination against LGBT people. That prompted lawmakers to make changes to the law days later, but the issue still drove a wedge into the Republican Party base.

Religious conservatives worry that if the discrimination protections are adopted, Christian business owners will be forced to compromise sincerely held religious beliefs by serving gay people. They cite event planners, photographers and bakers who might object to working at a same-sex wedding. Meanwhile, the state's business establishment worries that without them, the law will harm the state's ability to attract talent and jobs.

On Wednesday, a group of evangelical ministers gathered at the Statehouse to praise Pence for his comments during the speech. Pastor Kevin Baird said he took the governor's speech as "a clear signal that he would be a firewall" against the Senate bills.

Bosma said he did not know what Pence would say about LGBT rights until he received an advance copy of the remarks shortly before the speech.

"We have to take his words for what they are," Bosma said. "I had not heard that definite of a statement until Tuesday night."


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