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Recent editorials published in Indiana newspapers

Associated Press Updated: April 7, 2015 at 10:01 am
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The Goshen News. April 4, 2015.

Time for Indiana to take next step on equal rights

During a second private bill signing in a week, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence approved changes Thursday to the now notorious Religious Freedom Restoration Act, finally spelling out that discrimination by businesses against homosexuals will not be condoned as part of the new law.

The measure capped a week's worth of national scrutiny heaped on Pence and the Republican-dominated Statehouse, in which major corporations, other states and celebrities denounced Indiana, threatening boycotts and even relocations. Mark Emmert, president of the National Collegiate Athletic Association — which is based in Indianapolis — took Pence to task Thursday.

"The reality that no one could offer any reassurance that this bill would not protect people from discriminatory acts based upon sexual orientation or gender identity," Emmett fumed, "was completely inconsistent with all the things that I know the (NCAA) membership values."

As a result of the outcry, Indiana's Republican lawmakers reluctantly went back and dotted those i's and crossed those t's, while continuing to vent that the RFRA was never about discrimination. It's the public that got it wrong, they insist, and the authors of the bill who had it right. State Rep. Timothy Wesco, who represents parts of Elkhart County, has remained steadfast in his support of the original bill, saying it has only been about protecting religious freedoms from government overreach.

"However, contrary to all basis in fact, many in the public were misled to believe otherwise," Wesco said. "The law needed no clarification, but some members of the public did."

Well, in that case, thank you for that necessary clarification and please forgive those sticklers who were sharp enough to read between the political lines. If the original law could have trumped local protections for the LGBT community in cities throughout the state, a technical clarification to the law was indeed needed.

Thursday's revisions state that the act does not authorize "a provider to refuse to offer or provide services, facilities, use of public accommodations, goods, employment, or housing to any member or members of the general public on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or United States military service."

Even with this colossal stumble backward, the revision Pence approved Thursday before limping off to a European family vacation is a positive step for the state, as it is the first language in Indiana law acknowledging rights for people regardless of "sexual orientation and "gender identity."

The next step should be adding those people as a protected class in the Indiana Civil Rights Act. Meanwhile, leaders here in Goshen should revisit the effort of amending the city's Civil Rights ordinance to include LGBT individuals. Don't wait on the state to do the right thing.

It's time to make a strong statement and prove that "Hoosier Hospitality" is a motto meant for everyone and is truly rooted in substance, not reluctance.

___

News and Tribune, Jeffersonville. April 3, 2015.

'Fix' not perfect, but it's progress

Indiana is suffering through perhaps its most serious political crisis in a generation. Business has been lost. Boycotts against the state have been hatched. Reputations have been tarnished. The state has been relentlessly mocked and ridiculed.

Why? Because a super majority of out-of-touch and insensitive legislators, with support of an ideologically driven governor, failed to understand the warning signs that came with their push to adopt the so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Billed as a measure to prohibit state laws that "substantially burden" a person, religious institution, business or association from following their religious beliefs, it set off a firestorm of criticism because of the widely held perception that it opened the door for denial of services to people based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

The reaction from near and far has been ugly, the ramifications severe. The perception, fair or not, that our government endorses discrimination has triggered hostility from both inside and outside the state.

It took a few days, but those same government leaders who promoted the legislation finally came to grips with the need to address the problems it was creating and make an effort to resolve them. After discussions, negotiations and heated debate, a "clarifying" amendment was adopted by the legislature and signed by the governor on Thursday.

It specifically prohibits service providers from using the law as a legal defense for refusing to provide services, goods, facilities or accommodations. It also bars discrimination based on race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or U.S. military service.

This legislative "fix" to the RFRA is not perfect. But it is progress.

It does not address the fact that Indiana's civil rights law does not include sexual orientation and gender identity, but it does interject limited protections. That is a significant and positive step. The fact that RFRA's proponents are so staunchly against this "fix" should instill confidence that Indiana is now on the right track. While legislative leaders won't promise anything, there are indications that changes to the civil rights law could be considered next year.

Think about that. Before this session began, there were no efforts by anyone to write protections into state law for sexual orientation or gender identity. But because of the incredible and wide-ranging public backlash against RFRA, Republican legislators, many of whom steadfastly oppose any special designation under civil rights law for gays, lesbians or transgender people, have now placed protections for these individuals into law, at least in a limited way.

No, it does not give them the broad protections they deserve in the civil rights law. But even Senate President Pro Tem David Long conceded it was likely the issue will be brought up for hearings in the next session of the General Assembly.

Many GOP legislators believe there was nothing wrong with the bill as passed and signed or that a change was necessary only because of the "misperceptions" that triggered damaging economic consequences for the state. Still, they hammered out a "fix," and did so beyond what most Hoosiers expected. Although they remain defensive about RFRA and won't admit to any mistake, their actions speak louder than their words.

There are indications that this "fix" will lessen the harm being done to the state and allow recovery to begin. We hope so. The Indiana Chamber of Commerce, a vocal opponent from the start, has signed on. Major business and organizational interests such as Eli Lilly and Hulman & Co., parent to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, have expressed qualified support for the "fix." So has the NCAA.

Support is not universal, of course. And even those giving a nod of acceptance, groups such as the Indiana chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, have done so in a measured way. They see this as a good start, but claim more needs to be done in the future to truly repair the damage and get Indiana on the right track.

Just because we approve of the new direction being taken does not mean we're satisfied with where Indiana is now on civil rights. More changes are needed. We hope this episode promotes more dialogue toward that end.

___

Journal & Courier, Lafayette. April 3, 2015.

After RFRA's supermajority debacle

It's hard to imagine Gov. Mike Pence handling the past two weeks any worse than he did.

He discounted the readily available signs that Senate Bill 101 — Indiana's version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act — came factory-installed with hints and allegations of discrimination against gay and lesbian Hoosiers. When those hints and allegations started turning into nixed development deals and nationwide boycotts — real deals about money, jobs and convention traffic — Pence blamed the media for smearing a law they misunderstood. He continued to listen to inside cronies with easily traceable ties to anti-gay agendas before giving in to adjustments on the law to save face — not to mention the state's dwindling reputation.

And he looked awful doing it, wire to wire, from a hide-it-under-a-bushel, private signing of SB 101 on March 25 to Friday's less ceremonious, but still closed-door signing of supplemental legislation intended to clarify that the law was not aimed at allowing businesses to refuse service of gays and lesbians.

Sneaking out a back door of the Statehouse and quietly leaving for Europe moments after House and Senate leaders brought him a fix to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act — even as schools started arriving for the NCAA Tournament Final Four and a mega-weekend in downtown Indianapolis — didn't help the perception problem much.

Then again, given the heat laid on by the NCAA, threatening it was open to pulling its headquarters from Indianapolis if the Statehouse couldn't figure how to erase the perception of discrimination hanging off the new law, maybe it was best that Pence disappeared for the sake of clearing the slate before the nation converged for one of Indianapolis' biggest weekends.

All in all, a terrible week for the governor. And an insufferable week for Indiana.

But for all the justifiable grief piled on Pence in those two weeks, legislators deserve at least as much.

Leaders in the House and Senate might have skipped the hard-core blame game Pence played with the media. But they missed all the same signs, sending a bill to the governor after rejecting amendments during the legislative process that wound up in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act's hasty repair job.

They were unwilling to consider the consequences of perception. And they were just as defiant when they shook off one red flag after another, saying critics hadn't read the bill or simply didn't understand it.

As this fiasco rolled out, they misplayed. They misinterpreted. They misread. And Indiana took the brunt for it.

That was a big fear when Republicans won so many seats in the House and Senate that they qualified as supermajorities: Would anyone in the caucus bring a healthy skepticism in moments such as these?

Pence wasn't going to do it. That's obvious by now. And House and Senate leaders have a way to go to regain the trust that they can do it.

Indiana can't afford another couple of weeks such as the ones Hoosiers just suffered through again.

___

The Indianapolis Star. April 2, 2015.

A historic step forward for Indiana

History rose up with extraordinary swiftness this week in Indiana.

For the first time, state elected leaders have inserted the phrases "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" into a state law that protects against discrimination. And there are promises — credible promises — to go farther in the future.

The revisions in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act restored the protections in place in Indianapolis and other communities with local human rights ordinances that cover LGBT citizens. The fact that business leaders and others rallied around the cause signaled a first, but significant, step toward the possibility of statewide protections being adopted for all gay and lesbian Hoosiers.

The revisions will not satisfy everyone. By agreeing to address legal protections for LGBT citizens in cities with local anti-discrimination ordinances, Republican lawmakers have upset many social conservatives, a key part of their political base. On the other side, some advocates for gay rights are not satisfied that the efforts go far enough.

But the agreement is realistic and necessary. Lawmakers approved it quickly Thursday, and Gov. Mike Pence signed the legislation soon after.

It was only a week ago that Pence and the General Assembly sent a devastating message to the state and to the world. Their decision to enact RFRA set off a firestorm, fueled by concerns here and across the nation that the new law would allow businesses and individuals to discriminate against LGBT citizens.

House Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate leader David Long insisted again on Thursday that RFRA would not actually allow for such discrimination. But they also acknowledged a hard reality: Much of the nation was left to think otherwise.

Thursday morning, a diverse and bipartisan group of Indy's top business and civil rights leaders stepped forward in a remarkable show of unity and force aimed at reversing those perceptions. They stood behind Bosma and Long while unveiling the changes to the act and pledging to push farther with civil rights protections in the year ahead. Many of those leaders have worked for decades to transform Indianapolis' economy, rebuild its Downtown and enhance the city's national stature. They've done so to a spectacular degree.

As Indy in recent days faced the potential loss of major sports events, conventions, business investment and talent, those leaders rallied to push for and help craft the deal. Their leadership helped Indianapolis and the state to begin recovering from disaster.

Now we need to set out on the path to make Indiana a symbol of equality for all. That means enacting a state law that fully prohibits discrimination in employment, housing, education and public accommodations in all forms.

Let's send a resounding message, unmistakable in clarity: Indiana welcomes everyone. Indiana values everyone equally. Indiana will not tolerate discrimination against anyone.

We are Indiana, a state of fairness and equality.

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