COLUMBUS, Ind. (AP) – The city council of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence’s hometown has given unanimous preliminary approval to adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the city’s anti-discrimination ordinances.
The all-Republican Columbus City Council voted Tuesday night to advance the proposal that would also extend protections to military veterans and those 40 and older. The council could take a final vote Sept. 15 on the ordinance changes, The Republic reported.
Sexual orientation isn’t included in the state’s civil rights laws, but several cities across Indiana are considering adding such protections under local ordinances following the national outcry that erupted after Pence signed the state’s religious objections law in late March.
Critics of that law said it would provide a legal defense for discrimination against gays, lesbians and others. The Legislature quickly approved revisions prohibiting businesses from using it as a legal defense for refusing on religious grounds to provide services, goods, facilities or accommodations.
Columbus council members said now was the time to add sexual orientation as a protected class under anti-discrimination laws.
“When we look at Columbus in 20 years, this will seem like a no-brainer,” Councilman Frank Jerome said.
Democratic lawmakers say they will push during next year’s legislative session for amending the state civil rights laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity.
Pence, a Republican who grew up in Columbus and represented the city as part of his U.S. House district for 12 years before his election as governor in 2012, has said he doesn’t tolerate discrimination against anyone. But he and Republican legislative leaders haven’t indicated support for putting protections for sexual orientation in state law.
“The governor is listening to people on all sides of the issue in order to determine how best to move forward,” Pence spokeswoman Kara Brooks said Wednesday.
Gay rights supporters have been campaigning across the state for more cities to join those such as Indianapolis, South Bend and Evansville with local ordinances that include sexual orientation.
Republican-dominated Carmel and Zionsville are among communities that have adopted or taken up similar ordinances in recent months, but the mayors of Elkhart and Goshen withdrew their proposals following opposition campaigns led by a prominent Indiana conservative activist.
Columbus-based engine maker Cummins Inc., which has some 8,000 employees in the Columbus area, was a leading opponent of the religious objections law as legislators debated it this year.
Columbus Councilman Frank Miller said most residents he’s talked with support the expanded anti-discrimination protections.
“Most comment that it’s just the right thing to do for basic human needs,” he said.