LGBT civil rights have been in the news quite a bit in recent years, and issues surrounding concerns over sexual orientation and gender identity don’t look as though they’ll be fading into the background any time soon. After last year’s uproar over Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act resulted in even more controversy, it was almost inevitable that the issue of civil rights would continue to play a prominent role in the state’s political landscape in 2016. True to form, the scheduled August 30th first meeting of the legislature’s Interim Study Committee on Courts and the Judiciary reportedly has but one agenda item: civil rights issues involving gender identity and sexual orientation.
The Study Committee is a legislative advisory panel that was created to examine the need for additional protections to be added to the state’s laws to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals from various forms of discrimination. That committee was initially created in May in response to the ongoing debate about LGBT concerns over various civil rights issues. The Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma noted in May that the move was designed to allow lawmakers an opportunity to study the issue and give everyone in the state time to “think about it a little bit.”
How it All Began
Many outside the state might not understand why this controversy has continued to provoke such strong feelings on both sides of the issue. The current debate has its origins in the passage of Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act. That law was designed to prohibit the state from passing laws that could “substantially burden” an individual’s right to the free exercise of his or her religion. The state’s Governor and current Republican Party Vice-Presidential candidate, Mike Pence, signed the bill into law noting that it was designed “to ensure religious liberty is fully protected” under Indiana law.
At the time of its passage, proponents cited examples in which private businesses had been attacked and in some instances fined for refusing to provide services to gay marriages. The owners of those businesses had cited their own religious beliefs against recognition of same-sex marriage as matters of conscience that prevented them from participating in those ceremonies in any way. In one case, a photographer refused to provide photo services for a lesbian couple’s ceremony. In all of the cases cited, the states came down in opposition to the businesses.
Because the Indiana Constitution has long recognized religious freedom and the rights of conscience, many lawmakers might have assumed that the state’s citizenry would expect that their religious freedom would be respected in these matters as well. Led by a coalition of Democrats, activists, and other liberal groups, criticism of the state’s RFRA quickly rose to deafening levels. There were threats of boycotts, and bans in other states on government-funded travel to Indiana.
What the Critics Say
Much of the criticism of the law have focused on the perceived harm that it could do to the LGBT community. Some suggest that it would codify the right of business owners to refuse to serve members of that community, and justify that refusal using imagined religious grounds. One Muslim group has even suggested that the law could be used by Christian or Jewish business owners to deny service to members of the Islamic faith.
But is that a Real Danger?
Proponents of laws like these say that such concerns are hyperbolic. It is difficult, they say, to envision any court upholding a business owner’s claim of religious objection if his business refused to sell a member of the LGBT community a pair of shoes. It is equally difficult to imagine that court upholding reliance on the law to support a refusal to sell a cake or cupcakes. The law would, however, seem to be applicable in cases where the business owner might be required to sell services in a way that required his active participation in a ceremony that he felt offended his religious beliefs – as in the case where that New Mexico photographer was asked to attend a lesbian commitment ceremony and declined.
Still, it is easy to see why some LGBT groups might feel that the law was designed to target them. There has been, in recent years, a growing tension between time-honored religious liberties and newly-created civil rights for members of the LGBT community. Having only recently won court battles that redefined marriage to include same-sex partnerships, those groups are understandably sensitive to any perceived attempt to roll back their gains.
Trusting the Tide of History
People of good will on both sides of the issue should take heart, however. Though the battle lines seem stark at this present time, and people of every persuasion are concerned that their rights are under assault, the State of Indiana is a fundamentally good place that is filled with good people. Our state is struggling with these concerns now because the nation and the world is struggling with the same issues. In the end, however, it is a certainty that Indiana will see its way through this current confusion and settle on a series of policies that reflect our common decency and tolerance for differing lifestyles, opinions, and beliefs.
At Frank & Kraft, Attorneys at Law, we know a little something about how the tide of history works. After all, we’ve been at the forefront of issues that affect the LGBT community for many years, and have helped many gay and lesbian couples with some of their most complex legal concerns. Long before most jurisdictions were even thinking about recognizing gay marriage, we were helping those couples to take care of complex estate planning matters to ensure that they could provide secure futures for themselves and their families. We have faith that Hoosiers will once again come together to ensure that everyone’s best interests are respected. In the meantime, if you’d like to learn more about how we can help you with LGBT estate planning or other legal needs, call today at (317) 684-1100, or contact us at our website.
Mr. Kraft assists clients primarily in the areas of estate planning and administration, Medicaid planning, federal and state taxation, real estate and corporate law, bringing the added perspective of an accounting background to his work.