- Associated Press - Thursday, January 7, 2016

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Transgender people are excluded from a proposal in the Indiana Senate that would grant civil rights protections to gay, lesbian and bisexual people, but not those who identify by a gender that is different from their sex at birth.

The measure, sponsored by Sen. Travis Holdman, was presented Thursday as an “alternative” to another proposal from the Markle Republican that would extend discrimination protections in housing, employment and public accommodation to all LGBT people, while also offering broad religious exemptions.

“There is not consensus on this issue currently, and I believe having an alternative idea to consider will help move the debate forward in a constructive manner,” the socially conservative lawmaker said in a statement.

Currently, LGBT people are not protected from discrimination under state law, though some local governments, including Indianapolis, have approved their own ordinances. Senate leaders say both of Holdman’s bills will be taken up in committee, but already a split has emerged among GOP senators over how to proceed.

“This is an important discussion for our state to have, but there’s no denying that it is a difficult one,” Senate President Pro Tem David Long said in a statement.

Lawmakers are trying to undo perceived damage to the state’s reputation that came last spring when Gov. Mike Pence and the GOP majority’s handling of a religious objections law was drawn into an unwanted national spotlight. Critics said the law as initially passed allowed discrimination against gay people on religious grounds.

Lawmakers approved an amendment to the law but activists and the state’s business establishment have pushed them to go further, while religious conservatives have said such a law would force them to violate “sincerely held” beliefs.

That has driven a wedge between two pillars of the Republican Party base that lawmakers and Pence have struggled to bridge. Pence has refused to say where he stands on the matter, though he recently hinted that he may reveal his stance during next week’s State of the State address.

Recent public opinion surveys suggest a majority of people in Indiana support LGBT civil rights. Meanwhile, some of the state’s most prominent businesses and organizations - including Cummins, Inc., Eli Lilly and Company and the NCAA - have joined lobbying efforts pushing for LGBT protections.

House Speaker Brian Bosma says the debate has focused on two “really sticky” issues: the use of public restrooms by transgender people and the ability of photographers, bakers and wedding planners to decline to work with gay couples if they have a religious objection.

“I’m looking for a solution like everyone else,” Bosma said. “I haven’t seen one yet.”

Both of Holdman’s bills contain broad exemptions for religious charities and institutions, including those that hold state contracts. But the measure that does not cover transgender people also exempts wedding-related businesses with five or fewer employees, instead of three.

Another major difference would forbid local governments from passing their own discrimination laws protecting transgender people, though cities with existing ordinances could keep them.

“That’s not how we repair the harm that was done,” said Peter Hanscom, of the business-backed pro-LGBT group Indiana Competes. “We’re competing in a national and global economy. If we want to pull talent, we have to have the best (laws) in place.”


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