Indiana State Senate considers two Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity bills

Earlier this month two Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) bills, SB100 and SB344, hit the floor of the Indiana State Senate. Under SOGI laws, individuals cannot be discriminated against on the grounds of the sexual orientation or gender identity. These laws, already enacted in 17 states, usually apply to regulations regarding housing, employment, and places of public accommodation. Libertarians and social conservatives alike are concerned about the implications for religious freedom.

“What SOGI laws do, usually, is to amend already existing laws against discrimination in housing, employment, and places of public accommodation. That is, they add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of characteristics—for example, race, ethnicity, sex, religion, etc.—that may not be a basis for discrimination in those contexts,” Richard Garnett, Professor of Law, explained to the Rover.

“These laws make it the case that just as one may not deny a job or a lease to a person because of that person’s race, one also may not deny a job or a lease to a person because of that person’s sexual orientation,” he clarified.

According to Sotirios Barber, Professor of Political Science, the necessity of these laws depends on one’s understanding of the immutability of sexual orientation and gender identity. “Is either sexual orientation or gender identity an immutable characteristic analogous to racial identity? If so, then SOGI laws are analogous to laws protecting racial minorities from discrimination,” he told the Rover.

“If sexual orientation and/or gender identity are not immutable but chosen, and if government can’t legitimately protect them from discrimination because they are chosen, then how can government legitimately protect religious minorities from discrimination?” Barber posited.

Barber continued by explaining further complications of SOGI laws. “There’s also the question of who’s to decide whether either sexual orientation or gender identity is immutable,” he said. “Can we let public or legislative opinion answer this question without letting them decide whether sexual orientation and/or transgender identity are mental illnesses—conditions that prompt criminal conduct?”

State Senator Travis Holdman, a Republican from Markle, originally filed SB100 and recently also filed SB344 as an alternative approach to the issue. According to the Indiana State Republicans’ website, “Senate Bill 100 and Senate Bill 344 are good-faith attempts to balance religious liberty and the civil rights of gay and lesbian Hoosiers. Both bills have been offered as alternative proposals for public consideration.”

Though SB100 does include gender identity as a protected class, SB344 only includes sexual orientation. Additionally, SB100 requires local civil rights ordinances to conform to state law whereas SB344 would leave current ordinances in place but mandate all future local ordinances to comply with the amended state law.

Finally, regarding religious exemptions, SB100 exempts businesses with fewer than four employees from providing services for same-sex weddings, and SB344 exempts business with fewer than six employees. Under SOGI laws, in larger companies that provide these services, any employee with a conscientious objection to serving a same-sex couple may ask another member of the staff to assist the customers, but the company must still provide service.

Even though these laws provide exemptions for religious institutions and small companies, many are concerned that they pose a possible threat to religious freedom. “SOGI laws can affect religious freedom, just as antidiscrimination laws generally and many other regulations can affect religious freedom, if they require a person believer or institution to act in a way that runs contrary to sincerely held religious commitments,” Garnett said.

“As a general matter, the possibility of burdens on religious freedom can be reduced if regulations and mandates contain reasonable exemptions—for example, if they provide that religious institutions may continue to take religion into account when staffing important positions—but such exemptions cannot entirely eliminate that possibility,” he explained.

Barber disagreed that religious exemptions should be granted in this case. “If we let believers exempt themselves from one kind of law, how can we deny them exemption from other kinds of law?” he contended.

“To prevent this, a government that granted religious exemptions would eventually have to assume power and declare that some religious beliefs are false. That would signal the end of religious freedom,” he stated.

On the other hand, Ryan Anderson, the William E. Simon Senior Research Fellow in American Principles and Public Policy at The Heritage Foundation, asserted that SOGI laws, such as SB100 and SB344, attempt to expand civil rights for the LGBT community while curtailing the rights of those who hold the traditional view of marriage.

“SB 100 and SB 344 give one side special new legal privileges applicable almost everywhere, and ‘in exchange’ the other side gets limited exemptions from this bad public policy,” Anderson told the Rover.

He argued that the government must protect those who hold the traditional view of marriage and cannot punish them for maintaining this stance. “Public policy must ensure that government never penalizes people for expressing or acting on their view that marriage is the union of husband and wife, that sexual relations are properly reserved for such a union, or that maleness and femaleness are indeed objective biological realities,” he concluded.

The two bills were heard yesterday, Wednesday, January 27, in the Senate Committee on Rules and Legislative Procedure.

Hailey Vrdolyak contributed reporting for this article. 

Keenan White is a freshman living in Ryan Hall. Email her at