INDIANAPOLIS | The coalition of Hoosier business and community groups that in 2014 helped block an anti-gay marriage amendment to the Indiana Constitution is preparing to fight for a state law barring discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Freedom Indiana announced Wednesday it has hired Chris Paulsen, the former president of Indiana Equality Action, to manage a statewide campaign aimed at persuading the Republican-controlled General Assembly to enshrine civil rights protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Hoosiers in state law.
"It's an easy solution: four words and a comma," Paulsen said, referring to the addition of "sexual orientation, gender identity" to the Indiana Code section that already prohibits discrimination based on race, religion, color, sex, disability, national origin or ancestry.
"No one is asking for special rights. We're just asking lawmakers to ensure fair treatment of groups of citizens who have historically been treated unequally, and we hope they'll act quickly in the upcoming session," she said.
Indiana was the subject of significant unwanted national attention in March and April after Republican Gov. Mike Pence enacted a Religious Freedom Restoration Act widely perceived as licensing discrimination against homosexuals.
The new law quickly was modified following announced boycotts of the state to limit use of "religious freedom" as justification for discrimination. But gay and transgender Hoosiers still can be fired, denied housing or declined service in most Indiana communities for any other reason.
"A lot of people didn't realize that before RFRA, and we know now that a majority of Hoosiers want to see our laws updated to protect gay and transgender people," Paulsen said.
Republican legislative leaders so far have refused to guarantee a vote on an anti-discrimination law when the General Assembly convenes in January for its 10-week session.
Pence recently suggested Indiana's strong economy may even eliminate the need for such a law since out-of-state companies still are willing to relocate to Indiana.
Democratic legislators have declared passing a sexual orientation and gender identity anti-discrimination law is their top priority next year.
Illinois prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in 2006.
That law was expanded in 2014 to include anti-bullying protections for gay and transgender residents, and again this year to bar gay conversion therapies.