How similar is the state’s LGBT proposal to Carmel’s new HRO?

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After almost two months of debate, the Carmel City Council passed an anti-discrimination ordinance on Oct. 5.

The law seeks to outlaw discrimination when it comes to housing, employment and business services for a variety of groups. Discrimination based on race or religion is already outlawed, so most of the debate focused on protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered citizens. For that reason, some have referred to such laws as LGBT protection laws or human rights ordinances.

Several other Indiana cities such as Zionsville and Columbus enacted similar laws in the wake of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a statewide law that attracted criticism and controversy nationwide, including the threat of economic boycotts – such as opening businesses or planning events in Indiana – from those that disagreed with the law.

Now, the Indiana Statehouse is looking to repair some of the damage done to the image of the state by working on a law that would extend protections to LGBT groups in state law.

On Nov. 17, Indiana Senate Republicans introduced legislation that would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s civil rights protections, specifically when it comes to discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations.

Exemptions are being considered, such as allowing schools, employers and others to determine their own restroom policies for transgender people. Businesses with fewer than four employees will also not have to participate in wedding services for same-sex couples. Religious adoption agencies could also reject prospective same-sex parents.

In addition, lawmakers will consider exemptions that would fine people for filing “frivolous” claims of discrimination under the new law. Also, a transgendered individual has to live as their chosen gender for a year before filing any discrimination claim.

So the question is asked: Is this law similar to Carmel’s proposal that was recently passed?

Council President Rick Sharp, who voted for Carmel’s ordinance, said he’s happy that the state is taking action but he hasn’t read their proposal yet. He said he understands some of the exemptions, but wonders who would decide if a claim is “frivolous.” In general, he said he doesn’t like loopholes when it comes to something as important as outlawing discrimination.

City Councilor Luci Snyder expressed skepticism. She voted against Carmel’s law.

“Anyone following this issue knew the legislature would be dealing with this again,” she wrote in an e-mail to Current. “I will quote Carl Brizzi from his article in your fine publication: ‘How much liberty are we willing to cede for apparent security against abusers? The right to protect ourselves, like other fundamental rights, is rooted in the Constitution and essential to our country’s commitment to individual liberty. Rights are defined in the concept of absolutism…..otherwise they would not be a right. This right, like it or not, is one of those absolute rights. And, like all rights, will always be abused by some. The commitment to upholding fundamental rights sometimes causes great harm.’”

Snyder continued: “Remember he is talking here about the Second Amendment but this can, we have heard, apply to the First Amendment.”

State Sen. Mike Delph, who represents parts of Carmel and Zionsville, did not wish to comment when contacted by Current in Carmel.

In my analysis, it appears that Carmel’s anti-discrimination law has fewer exemptions that the state’s. Carmel does not exempt businesses with fewer than five employees (interesting side note, one Tea Party activist was quotes as saying that if an employer has four employees and wants to hire a fifth then they have to “decide between their business and their God.”). Carmel doesn’t require that one live as their chosen gender for a year (although Carmel doesn’t address bathroom requirements at all). Carmel doesn’t give an exemption to religious adoption services.

One LGBT rights blog argues that Indiana’s law would supersede all other laws created by Indiana municipalities. That means that Carmel’s law could not exceed the state’s.

Sharp disagrees with this interpretation. He said because of “Home Rule” laws, Carmel’s law could be tougher than the state’s but not looser.

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