City of Columbus to argue for dismissal of human rights ordinance lawsuit

Columbus will ask a Hamilton County judge to rule in its favor later this month and dismiss a lawsuit challenging the city’s human rights ordinance and its protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents.

A hearing on a summary judgment sought by the defendants is scheduled for 9 a.m. Aug. 16 in Hamilton Superior Court 1 in Noblesville, court records state. City attorney Alan Whitted is scheduled to speak for the city at the hearing, Mayor Jim Lienhoop said.

The lawsuit, filed by the Terre Haute-based Bopp Law Firm, has been pending since late last year.

It was initially filed as a challenge to the legislative fix to Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and originally named Carmel and Indianapolis/Marion County as defendants. Bloomington and Columbus were added as defendants after each added human rights protections for the LGBT community.

In addition to naming the city of Columbus, the lawsuit also names the individual members of the Columbus Human Rights Commission as defendants, and the Columbus commission as a whole.

The law firm filed the complaint on behalf of plaintiffs the Indiana Family Institute, Indiana Family Action and The American Family Association of Indiana. Those groups contend the versions of the ordinances that protect the LGBT community from discrimination means the government could compel them to provide services to gay couples that go against their religious beliefs.

In fall 2015, the Columbus City Council unanimously approved an amendment to its human rights ordinance that added discrimination protections based on sexual orientation, gender identity, age and veteran status.

The Columbus amendment provided no exemptions for religion beliefs, but commission members said religion is already a protected class in the human rights ordinance, along with race, sex, disability and national origin or ancestry.

In earlier interviews, attorney Jim Bopp said the plaintiffs in the lawsuit are particularly concerned about Columbus’ ordinances because it does not allow for any religious exceptions to the sexual orientation and gender identity protections.

Bopp described the Columbus amendment to its ordinance as “draconian and outrageous.”

What's next

A hearing on possible dismissal of a lawsuit against Columbus and members of its Human Rights Commission is scheduled for 9 a.m. Aug. 16 in Hamilton Superior Court 1 in Noblesville.

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Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.