The GOP leader of Indiana's state Senate announced Monday that a socially conservative lawmaker known for pushing religious and anti-abortion measures will sponsor a "comprehensive" bill addressing LGBT rights and religious protections.
Republican leader David Long refused to give details about what the proposal will entail other than stating that Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, is drafting the measure, which will be heard when the Legislature meets in January. Holdman declined to comment through a spokesman.
For months, gay rights supporters and religious conservatives who clashed last spring over the state's religious objections law have anticipated a bitter debate over LGBT rights when the Legislature convenes. Business groups and other supporters of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights are pushing the Legislature to adopt protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in housing, employment and public accommodation, while social conservatives want to address the concerns of people who object to homosexuality for religious reasons.
Long accused LGTB supporters of "shortchanging" debate through their campaign slogan, which suggests the addition of "four words and a comma" to state law is all that's needed to resolve the volatile issue.
"It's not just four words and a comma," said Long. He added that discussion about "freedom of religion" has been sidelined and "we should not discount that as we discuss how to deal with this issue."
Long made the remarks at a forum that previewed the coming session and was hosted by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, the voice of the state's business establishment, which has called on lawmakers to approve protections for LGBT people. He appeared alongside Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma, as well as Democratic Party leaders, who are in the minority.
It was the first time in months that either Bosma or Long substantively addressed the issue in public.
The issue drives a wedge between two stalwart pillars of the Republican Party's base: the business establishment and social conservatives. Thus far, GOP leaders have struggled to bridge the gap.
The announcement from Long came in advance of Tuesday's "Organization Day" - an ordinarily mundane day of speeches and administrative tasks that this year is expected to draw large crowds of religious conservatives and LGBT rights supporters to the Statehouse. The increased focus was helped along by Eric Miller, the founder of the socially conservative organization Advance America, who sought to raise fears among his supporters by warning in a series of web videos that lawmakers may use the day to pass LGBT protections through a "sneak attack."
That prompted lawmakers to promise that no legislation would be passed that day.
Bosma, who has gubernatorial ambitions, refused to say Monday where his caucus stands and would not say whether Holdman's bill would get a hearing if it passes the Senate.
"This is clearly the toughest issue of the session. It may even be the toughest issue of any of our careers. We have to balance to deeply held interests in Indiana," said Bosma, who also lashed out at outside groups and vowed that lawmakers "will not be blackmailed into a policy decision."
Democratic House minority leader Scott Pelath suggested there are enough votes to pass a bill if pro-LGBT rights Republicans joined Democrats.
"The simplest thing for everyone is just to put this behind Indiana," Pelath said. "To demonstrate to the rest of the nation and the world that we are welcoming, tolerant, accepting and loving."