INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana this year will not enact legislation specifically protecting the civil rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Hoosiers.
Senate Bill 344 failed to advance Tuesday for a final vote by the Republican-controlled Senate after its sponsor, state Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, declined to allow senators to consider changes to the measure.
His decision ends some 10 months of debate over whether Indiana would adopt an LGBT anti-discrimination law to wipe away lingering controversy tied to approval for the 2015 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was widely seen as licensing discrimination against gays and prompted nationwide boycotts of Indiana businesses.
As a result, RFRA remains law in Indiana with the caveat that Hoosiers cannot use "religious freedom" to discriminate against LGBT individuals.
LGBT Hoosiers still can be denied employment, housing and access to public accommodations for any other reason, except in communities with local ordinances prohibiting such discrimination.
Holdman said, despite his best efforts to craft legislation balancing civil liberties with strong protections for religious freedom, he simply could not find enough Senate support for the plan that was approved 7-5 last week by the Rules Committee.
It would have added sexual orientation, but not gender identity, to the seven classes already protected under the state's civil rights statutes, with exceptions for nearly any entity with a connection to religion and most wedding service providers.
"I believe the balanced approach that was outlined in the bill would be a step forward for our state," Holdman said. "I am greatly, greatly disappointed. I believe we have let down a number of friends, both our LGBT friends and our friends in the faith community."
Senators clearly disagreed, filing 27 proposed changes to the measure.
After an extended private discussion Tuesday among Senate Republicans about the amendments, Holdman decided to kill his proposal rather than watch it become unrecognizable.
Senate President David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said it wasn't clear the legislation would pass the Senate, even if any or all of the suggested changes were adopted.
"They didn't want to go through the pain of having all this discussion if, in fact, in the end the bill was not going to move," Long said.
"We also got messages from the House that they weren't really probably going to seriously consider it. I don't know what the message was from down on the second floor; we still aren't sure what the governor would or wouldn't have done."
"All of that weighed into a difficult environment for us," Long said.
Supporters of an LGBT anti-discrimination law, including Freedom Indiana, Indiana Competes, Tech for Equality, Indiana Chamber of Commerce and ACLU of Indiana, all said the Senate should have at least voted on the proposal.
"The issue of legal discrimination against hundreds of thousands of Hoosiers will not go away, and we will continue to fight this session to update our civil rights law and undo the damage done to our state last year," said Chris Paulsen, Freedom Indiana campaign manager.
Long indicated he will not allow the Senate to consider any other civil rights measures in the five weeks remaining in the legislative session, but he's confident the issue will be before lawmakers again next year.