While Pence remains favored to win a second term, former state Speaker John Gregg, who narrowly lost to Pence in 2012, is challenging the governor again next year and has panned his handling of the issue.
“As I have said throughout this campaign, I believe Indiana must adopt a zero-tolerance policy toward discrimination,” Gregg said. “Anything short of extending full civil-rights protection to LGBT Hoosiers is a nonstarter in my view. I appreciate the Senate Republicans joining this conversation and wish Mike Pence would finally do the same."
Pence is staying quiet so far. In a statement, spokesman Matt Lloyd said only that the governor will “give careful consideration to this and any other legislative proposal put forth by the Indiana General Assembly."
An Indiana-based GOP operative unaffiliated with the Pence campaign said, “Democrats’ goal in the end is they want to force Mike Pence into a compromise that alienates social conservatives in the hopes that social conservatives will stay home in November.”
Since RFRA, most of the action has only taken place at the local level—more than a dozen towns and counties have adopted nondiscrimination ordinances. But a Ball State University/WISH-TV poll from November showed that a majority of Indiana voters would support amending state civil-rights laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity.
The bills won’t be fully debated until the new year, but a Republican-sponsored bill has gay-rights advocates and a handful of business coalitions gearing up for another fight. The Republican proposal bans discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, and public accommodations, but it includes a number of carve-outs for religious businesses and organizations—causing some Democrats to dub it “RFRA 2.0.”
Among several exemptions, the bill would allow businesses with four employees or less to refuse to offer same-sex couples marriage or wedding-related services, as well as permit religiously affiliated adoption agencies to refuse to place children with same-sex couples. It would also require transgender individuals to live as their preferred gender for 12 months or prove their identity with a medical opinion before filing a discrimination complaint, and allow businesses and organizations to set their own policies for transgender bathroom use.
Some religious conservatives are unhappy with the bill and think it goes too far, and some on the Left are pushing for a clear-cut measure that includes no special exemptions. Democrats describe their proposal as merely “four words and a comma,” referring to their desire to add “sexual orientation, gender identity” as protected classes to existing civil-rights laws.
State House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, a Democrat, believes Pence has three options next year: Do nothing, forge some sort of compromise that balances calls for religious freedom, or pass full civil-rights protections.