Judge gives conservative groups chance to continue lawsuit over LGBT rights

A Hamilton County Judge is allowing a lawsuit filed against Columbus and its human rights commission over LGBT protections to continue, but is requiring the state be added as a party to the litigation.

Columbus and its human rights commission, along with three other Indiana cities, had argued in Hamilton Superior Court 1 on Nov. 2 to have the lawsuit dismissed.

Hamilton Superior Court 1 Judge Steven R. Nation gave the plaintiffs — Indiana Family Institute, Indiana Family Action and the American Family Association of Indiana — the opportunity to continue the litigation by filing a second amended complaint, the court ruling states.

Nation ruled the amended complaint, which would have to be filed within the next 20 days, should add the state of Indiana and/or appropriate state officials as a party to the cause.

He denied the other arguments that attorneys for Indianapolis/Marion County, Carmel, Bloomington and Columbus had made to have the lawsuit dismissed.

The judge did dismiss the lawsuit’s naming of individual human rights commission members in the cities as defendants in the lawsuit, including individual members of the Columbus Human Rights Commission.

Describing naming them individually as duplicative, Nation ruled the members would be bound by any determination in the lawsuit that would be made about the commission as a whole.

Columbus City Attorney Alan Whitted said attorneys for the cities had argued that the state was a necessary party as a defendant to fully adjudicate the case.

Terre Haute attorney Jim Bopp of the Bopp Law Firm, representing the plaintiffs, contends the “fix” to the state’s controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act was unconstitutional because it prohibits LGBT discrimination unless a person or organization is affiliated with a church or a member of the clergy.

With that change, Bopp argued that family values groups have no legal protection against the human rights ordinances that provide protections to LGBT individuals. The three conservative organizations argued in their complaint that the human rights ordinances in each of the four cities are unconstitutional and substantially burden the organizations’ religious freedom by preventing them from hosting pro-traditional marriage events in the cities.

Whitted said he expects the plaintiffs to file the amended complaint, and after that, attorneys for the state will be given a time period to reply. The state would also have an opportunity to file a motion to dismiss, and if the state seeks to have the lawsuit dismissed, there would need to be a hearing, he said.

Whitted said he was encouraged by having the individual names of the Columbus Human Rights Commission members removed from the lawsuit, which was important for them individually.

In addition to the fact no one likes to be sued, being a party to a lawsuit can come up in background or credit checks — something the dismissal will eliminate, Whitted said.

The Indianapolis Business Journal contributed to this story.

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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.