INDIANAPOLIS (Jan. 4, 2016) – On Tuesday, the halls of the Indiana Statehouse will again be buzzing as the 2016 legislative session begins.
Notably one of the debates will center on whether to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s civil rights code.
“I’m always nervous the day before session starts,” Kevin Brinegar joked, president and CEO of the Indiana Chamber.
The state chamber is taken a strong stance on the issue, advocating for lawmakers to add LGBT protections for Hoosiers this session.
“We are going to push really hard for passage of legislation this session because we believe the time has come,” Brinegar said.
Republicans who hold a supermajority in both the House and Senate will face strong pressure from multiple factions in the party, like the chamber, but conservative religious groups who say new protections aren’t needed.
“It is very, very important that we protect religious liberty,” Pastor Ron Johnson said in a Facebook video, executive director of the Indiana Pastors Alliance.
The group is gathering signatures opposing “the elevation of homosexual behaviors, and gender identity to special rights status in Indiana.
Johnson said the alliance strongly rejects the bill already filed in the Senate that would extend LGBT protections but with some religious exemptions.
“This is a terrible piece of legislation for Christians,” Johnson said in the video. “And we encourage you to join with us in standing against Senate Bill 100.”
Leading Republicans have been meeting throughout the summer and fall, trying to determine the best approach moving forward.
“This is a tough one,” House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis) said in an interview Monday.
Bosma said he’s unsure whether middle ground will be found or if Republicans will have enough votes to pass any type of legislation.
“Actually I was fairly optimistic that spot could be found,” he said. “I’m less optimistic now. Most folks in the legislature – representatives and I think Senate members – represent rural areas, not urban areas where this may be more of an issue. I’ve had a number of legislators tell me look people just aren’t interested in this.”
Governor Mike Pence, who was at the center of a nationwide spotlight last year after signing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, has yet to take a public stance on the issue, which wasn’t included in his 2016 legislative agenda, which was made public Monday afternoon.
“I think it’s very safe to say it’s going to get a lot of attention,” Andrew Downs said, director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics.
Downs pointed out while Pence will play a critical role in the debate, lawmakers ultimately could override his decision.
“What the governor has to say will matter at least to some degree,” he said. “Maybe not as much as the governor would like, but it will certainly matter in the conversation.”