RFRA Debate Raises Questions About LGBT Civil Rights Protection

Mar 20, 2015

Indiana civil rights law does not currently bar discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, which some lawmakers want to change.
Credit Courtesy / Wikimedia Commons

The controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) that’s being debated in the Indiana legislature is sparking another debate: whether state law should protect gays and lesbians from discrimination.

RFRA’s supporters say the proposed law only ensures the government can’t restrict a person’s religious practices unless it has a compelling interest to do so. They believe the state’s civil rights statute qualifies as a compelling interest. 

But the statewide civil rights law bars discrimination based on race, religion, color, sex, disability, national origin or ancestry, not sexual orientation. 

House Minority Leader Scott Pelath says it should.

“In this day and age, anyone who fires someone for the sole reason of their sexual orientation…well, I would think that most people would agree that that’s wrong,” Pelath said.

Governor Mike Pence, who supports RFRA, says debate on that bill has nothing to do with discriminating against the LGBT community.

“I think that is a…that’s a question for another time," Pence said. "That’s not what this is about.”

About a dozen local city and county ordinances around the state bar discrimination based on sexual orientation, but Pelath says he’s worried RFRA will undo those protections.