Soon after the City of Carmel unveiled an ordinance to outlaw discrimination in business practices, amendments have been introduced that gay rights activists say actually legalize discrimination.
Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard has urged passage of the original version of the law without the added amendments, which spell out exemptions. Some exemptions include work on off-site premises or custom products that could be deemed profane.
“The amendments are a result of people reaching out,” Brainard said. “We wrote the amendments at the request of some council members. I think they need to be discussed and hopefully disregarded. The ordinance in its original form, with the exception that we need to define ‘religious schools’ a little more carefully, we don’t need the other exemptions that were discussed.”
City Council President Rick Sharp, who ran unsuccessfully against Brainard for mayor and has criticized him in the past, is in agreement on this issue.
“I was fine with the original, but I need to study the amendments,” he said. “I have heard some desire for some definitions and that’s key for writing a law. My thought is if you’re taking a stand of love and non-judgment and saying, ‘We deny you the right to practice bigotry in our city,’ I’m not sure why you would water that down.”
Katie Blair, director of advocacy for the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, sent an e-mail to Carmel businesses to urge them to support the original version of the law.
“Amendments have been offered to the ordinance that would still allow for LGBT to residents to be discriminated against,” she e-mailed. “Please contact the Council and the Mayor to let them know that you support fairness for all members of the Carmel community and to support the original draft of the Human Rights Ordinance.”
JD Ford, an openly gay democrat who ran unsuccessfully against State Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel, said he thinks the amendments could create more problems.
“We should pass the ordinance without the amendments to send a strong message nationally that we don’t support discrimination,” he said. “I could see a scenario where the national media sees Carmel pass the law with the amendments and then Carmel actually looks like a place that legalizes discrimination, which isn’t good for our image or promoting economic development.”
Jennifer Wagner, spokeswoman for Freedom Indiana, a grass-roots group campaigning for LGBT rights, said she’s more focused on the fight for a statewide anti-discrimination law, but she is disappointed by the amendments to the Carmel law. She said it’s not the end of the world if the law is passed with the amendments and it could be a positive step, but it’s not a wise move in her view.
“The amendments are broad and troublesome,” she said.
When asked if the amendments mean the law could “legalize discrimination,” Brainard responded, “Yes, it could.”
“But Indianapolis has some exemptions in its ordinances,” he added. “Any business under six people is totally exempt. Our exceptions are much less broad, if they were to be adopted, which I don’t think the amendments should be.”
Mo Merhoff, president of OneZone, which includes the Carmel Chamber of Commerce, said she hasn’t studied the amendments but that her organization likes the original ordinance.
“I think there are some concerns about legalities when you start to make exceptions,” she said.
John Accetturo, a former member of the Carmel City Council who opposes the law, said he’s skeptical that any amendments will make the proposed ordinance any better in his mind.
“It looks like this law was written by a seventh grader,” he said. “I mean, two pages? It’s a mess. They really ought to scrap it and start from scratch.”
Sue Tapp Lile, member of the Hamilton County based Tea Party group the Constitutional Patriots, said in her personal opinion that amendments won’t fix the law because she said the law is unconstitutional to begin with. She said government cannot make any laws restricting religion, which in her personal opinion the law does.
“I believe that the ordinance, with or without the amendments, is unnecessary and restricts the 1st Amendment rights of Carmel citizens in significant and unacceptable ways,” she said. “There is no econometric study that supports the point of view that the economy will be affected if this ordinance isn’t passed. It’s just politics. We are all assured freedom of religion and conscience according the U. S. and the Indiana Constitution.”