Earlier this month, Indiana legislators were still engaged in a heated debate about the state’s failure to enact anti-discrimination legislation that would protect the state’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender residents. To date, the state still has no formal protections on its books to ensure that LGBT residents of the state are not subjected to unfair discrimination in areas like housing and employment – a fact that continues to stir the passions of members of that community and their supporters throughout Indiana.
Many have been disappointed by the legislature’s failure to even consider, much less pass, serious protections for the LGBT community. That leaves members of that community in a position where they have no legal protections against employment discrimination. For example, most experts agree that current law doesn’t prevent an employer from dismissing an employee merely for being gay. In like manner, there are no safeguards to protect those individuals from being denied housing. According to one civil rights organization, the entire legislative session should be viewed as a failure, the campaign manager of that group, Chris Paulsen, went even further when he suggested that all that the legislators needed to do was insert a few words into a law that already exists:
“Lawmakers’ refusal to put forth serious effort to address LGBT nondiscrimination — despite having promised to do so — flies in the face of the strong majority of Hoosiers and hundreds of local businesses who wholeheartedly support a simple and fair solution: Four words and a comma to add ‘sexual orientation, gender identity’ to existing civil rights law.”
The Controversy’s Origins
Controversy has been raging in Indiana since last year’s Religious Freedom Act was signed into law. Though its backers proposed the law to protect people of faith from being forced to violate their conscience. A similar law has been in effect at the federal level since 1993, after being signed by then-President Bill Clinton. A later Supreme Court decision determined that the federal law only applied to the federal government, which led to 21 state governments passing their own version of the law in the years between 1997 and 2014.
Proponents of such laws argue that they are needed to prevent people of faith from being coerced into participating in events or activities that might violate their religious beliefs. An example of that type of controversial decision took place in the week following the passage of Indiana’s RFA, when a pizza parlor’s owners declared their intention to refuse to provide catering to a same-sex wedding. While the owners of the family business stressed that they would happily serve anyone in their restaurant, they insisted that they could not participate in a same-sex wedding due to their belief that marriage is between a man and a woman.
In response to opposition to the new law, the legislature went back and clarified the law to ensure that it could not be used by businesses to refuse services to anyone in the state. While many small businesses were dismayed that the legislature had retreated from its goal of protecting their freedom of conscience, opponents of the new law were not exactly pleased either. Democrats in the legislature demanded that the law be repealed in its entirety, or that the state pass a law providing specific civil rights protections for the LGBT community.
So Where Does That Leave Us?
Indiana remains a state where employers can fire their workers at will, which leaves the state in an odd position when it comes to protecting civil rights for LGBT individuals. For while same-sex couples now have the legal right to get married and enjoy all the rights and privileges that status brings, they still have no protections against being discriminated against in the workplace. For many of those individuals, that can be a frightening situation to be in, since they can be fired for any reason or no reason at all. In short, a same-sex couple could be fired for getting married, and would have no recourse to assert their rights or interests in a court of law.
That’s not to say that the state is doing nothing, of course. Freedom Indiana has been working at the local level to pass ordinances that provide greater civil rights protections for LGBT individuals, rather than wait for the state government to act. The group has seen some success in several communities, though protections for gender identity have been elusive in others.
Indeed, the issues surrounding gender identity have been among the most contentious in 2015, and questions about civil rights protections for transgendered individuals ultimately prevented the legislature from passing its LGBT civil rights reforms in February. That February bill quickly became a veritable patchwork quilt of competing ideas, as it was amended 27 times and even got bogged down in the debate over which bathrooms transgendered individuals can use.
For now, civil rights protections for LGBT individuals seem to have lost momentum in the legislature. There are several lawsuits pending at the federal level that would impact these issues, and many observers expect that the legislature may just wait to see how those cases are resolved before attempting to craft what would almost certainly be another controversial measure for Indiana.
The LGBT Community Still Has Needs
While legislators and those who get paid to write about them may be content to adopt a wait and see attitude, the needs of the LGBT community must still be met. Discrimination is a fact of life, and many lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals still struggle to deal with matters that other communities take in stride. Estate planning is one clear example of how sexuality can impact something as basic as the Last Will and Testament and rights of inheritance. At Frank & Kraft, Attorneys at Law, our LGBT estate planning experts have long been committed to providing members of that community with the tools and strategies they need to safeguard their interests and provide a sound legacy for their loved ones. To find out how we can help you with these important issues, call today at (317) 684-1100, or contact us at our website.