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Everyone Stands to Benefit Michelle & Stephanie
Editorial: Protect LGBT, city council January 14, 2016 Source: Kokomo Tribune

CLICK HERE to read the original editorial on Kokomo Tribune.

Before ceremonially signing two bills he hopes will facilitate high-speed Internet expansion in rural Indiana, Gov. Mike Pence touted the state’s best-in-the-Midwest unemployment rate back in July.

He held up a newspaper that prominently displayed the state’s 4.9 percent June jobless figure and suggested the “fix” to the so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act worked.

“I think our economy speaks for itself,” the governor said this past summer. “Our economy is strong and growing stronger.”

For Pence, the RFRA crisis, which sparked boycotts, scuttled previously announced business expansions and led tourists to cancel Indiana travel plans last year, is over.

Judging from Tuesday’s State of the State address, his opinion hasn’t changed.

“I will not support any bill that diminishes the religious freedom of Hoosiers or that interferes with the constitutional rights of our citizens to live out their beliefs in worship, service or work,” he said of extending civil rights protections to LGBT.

That’s why it’s important the Kokomo city council joins 12 other Indiana cities in extending protections against sexual-orientation and gender-identity discrimination. During a political debate we co-sponsored in April, council president Bob Hayes, vice president Mike Kennedy and then-council-candidate Steve Whikehart said they support adopting those protections.

The city council has yet to consider such a proposal.

RFRA was passed by a legislative supermajority of Republicans and signed into law in March. Its purpose, they said, was to prohibit laws that “substantially burden” a person, religious institution, business or association from following their religious beliefs.

Instead, it sparked a firestorm of condemnation from civil rights advocates, business leaders and others who saw it as a way to deny services to the LGBT community.

Several bills broadening Indiana’s civil rights law could receive hearings during this legislative session, which only began last week. Those changes must be made and signed into law — this year, governor.

Nothing changes unless there’s a crisis. And the one that enveloped Indiana last spring shone a spotlight on a belief among many in our state that they are justified in treating our gay and lesbian friends and family members with contempt.

Bob Hayes, Mike Kennedy, Steve Whikehart and other councilmembers must codify civil rights protections for Kokomo’s LGBT. The council must do the right thing and pressure state lawmakers to do the same.