Culture Warriors: LGBT Battlefield

After two messy wins in as many years, Freedom Indiana embarks on a fight in the General Assembly this month to outlaw LGBT discrimination statewide. Here’s a battlefield who’s who.

First came marriage: In 2014, with a constitutional ban on same-sex nuptials all but assured, LGBT advocacy group Freedom Indiana rallied enough opposition to forestall the measure until federal courts killed it dead. Then came the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, after which Freedom Indiana drummed up enough public pressure to compel an 11th-hour “fix” in the General Assembly (making the law moot in communities with local LGBT protections). And here we are again: The group and its allies want to neuter RFRA once and for all by amending the state’s Civil Rights Law to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.” Fighting against unpopular bills is one thing; fighting for a new law could prove a much tougher mission. IM assesses the cause’s friends and foes.

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GOP Powerbrokers

In November, the Senate GOP released SB 100, which would add LGBT protections to the Civil Rights Law with some religious exceptions. The bill followed reports that executive heavy hitters—including Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles—were pounding out a backroom compromise.

Democratic Lawmakers

In October, Senate Dems unveiled a draft bill that would update the Civil Rights Law with protections for LGBT Hoosiers and—in a political masterstroke—veterans. Because who wants to cast a vote against vets? But Republicans hold voting majorities and the committee chairs.

Job Creators

Two of the state’s largest employers, Eli Lilly and Cummins, helped launch Freedom Indiana, largely for image and recruitment purposes. The Indiana Chamber of Commerce supports LGBT protection in the Civil Rights Law, too.


Gov. Mike Pence

RFRA was embarrassing, but Pence hasn’t won elections by championing LGBT causes. And he still wields the veto pen, which is mighty indeed.

Republican Leadership

House Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate President Pro Tem David Long, friends to both big business and social conservatives, orchestrated the RFRA “fix” on the last day of the 2015 session—while holding their noses. Biggest weapon: They can route any proposals to favorable or unfavorable committees at their discretion.

Republican Rank-and-File

Only five Republicans voted against RFRA on the first go-around. Considerably more voted for the revised “fix.” Meaning they’re not a monolith—and moderate, pro-business Republicans from cities and ’burbs have proven receptive to the corporate pitch for LGBT rights.

We the People

In the wake of RFRA, polls showed that 54 percent of likely voters wanted a new governor and 56 percent of Hoosiers support LGBT civil rights. But voters are quick to anger and fast to forget—and Hoosiers haven’t elected a Democratic governor in 16 years.


Chris Paulsen

Freedom Indiana’s new campaign manager and former president of Indiana Equality Action. A battle-hardened activist—with a bigger war chest than her previous gig afforded. Now she has to prove what she can do with it.

Gen Con

After RFRA, the CEO of the annual gamer convention, one of Indy’s largest, threatened to take the $50 million show elsewhere—and is still watching Indiana’s debate closely.

City Mayors

Eight of Indiana’s 10 largest cities have passed ordinances banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity, accounting for nearly 30 percent of the state’s population. Mayors don’t legislate. But they know people who do.

Bill Oesterle

The former Angie’s List CEO called a truce on culture wars from inside Mitch Daniels’s administration. Then he created a lobbying group called Tech for Equality, which includes Salesforce. But his outspokenness has burned bridges within the GOP.


Godfearing Small Businesses

Backing RFRA made one Walkerton pizzeria a social-conservative darling last year. Now the Senate GOP wants to protect LGBT rights but exempt places with fewer than five workers; I have to choose between a fifth employee and God? wonder some business owners.

Socially Conservative Activists

Eric Miller of Advance America. Curt Smith and the Indiana Family Institute. Micah Clark with the American Family Association of Indiana (which in July issued a Bigotry Map of organizations that allegedly discriminated against Christians). They’re avatars of the GOP’s “pro-family” base, ergo a lot of lawmakers take their calls.