State needs update to civil rights laws

Let’s be clear up front: No one should be discriminated against. Hoosier values demand that everyone be treated fairly and with dignity.

Yet, in Indiana, the struggle for equality goes on when it comes to one of the most fundamental of all civil rights: the right not to be discriminated against.

Indiana’s civil rights laws prohibit practices that discriminate against individuals based on race, religion, sex, disability, national origin or ancestry. What is starkly missing from the code are protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

It’s well past time for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community to be included in the state’s civil rights laws so they are not discriminated against when it comes to employment, housing and public and business accommodations.

But some legislators and Gov. Mike Pence are once again wavering on sending the strongest message possible that Indiana in no way, shape or form tolerates discrimination.

One plan introduced in the General Assembly, Senate Bill 100, would add sexual orientation, gender identity, active military status and veterans as protected classes but allow exemptions for “sincerely held religious beliefs.”

Another unacceptable proposal, Senate Bill 344, protects all classes except for transgender Hoosiers. That leaves the door open for discrimination against an entire group of people.

The governor is offering up little leadership either.

In his State of the State address last week, Pence said: “I will not support any bill that diminishes the religious freedom of Hoosiers or that interferes with the constitutional rights of our citizens to live out their beliefs in worship, service or work.”

No question about it, religious freedoms must be protected. Church and the clergy should not be made to do something that goes against their beliefs, including deciding whom they should marry. That cherished right — religious freedom — has been affirmed in our constitution for years.

The particularly disconcerting part of the governor’s statement is “service or work.”

Gay and transgender Hoosiers should not have to live in fear that they may lose their jobs or be denied housing because of who they are.

Moreover, other states and cities have civil rights and religious liberty protections that exist side by side. And no one is getting any special rights by adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s laws.

At this moment, Indiana is edging closer to being thrown back into the national firestorm over an issue that needs to be settled once and for all.

Rightly or wrongly, Hoosiers were perceived as intolerant eight months ago when fallout from “religious freedom” legislation brought threats of boycotts, loss of convention and business investments and real concerns about the ability to keep and attract talented employees to the state.

Frankly, though, the economic implications aren’t paramount on this issue. Indiana must take action because it is the right, fair and decent thing to do on the most human of levels. We can’t say we are a welcoming, compassionate state and then have different standards for certain people when it comes to discrimination.

Reject the proposals as they stand in the legislature now. Let them die, or change them to simply add “sexual orientation and gender identity” to the state code.

Do the right thing: Ensure equal and fair treatment for all Hoosiers.

At issue

Everyone must have the right not to be discriminated against.

Our point

End the struggle for equality in Indiana. Update the state’s civil rights code to include protections for sexual orientation and gender identity.