After almost two months of debate, the Carmel City Council passed a law to prohibit discrimination, in a 4-3 vote on Oct. 5.
After more than two hours of public comment – which was limited to two minutes per speaker – the ordinance was passed with only a slight change.
The law seeks to outlaw discrimination when it comes to housing, employment and business services for a variety of groups. Discrimination based on race or religion is already outlawed, so most of the debate focused on protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered citizens.
The ordinance comes on the heels of the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which drew national headlines and some boycotts by businesses who opposed the law. Carmel’s new human rights law was viewed by supporters as a necessity to help promote economic development and attract businesses.
Voting in favor of the ordinance was Rick Sharp, Carol Schleif, Sue Finkam and Ron Carter. Voting against was Luci Snyder, Kevin “Woody” Rider and Eric Seidensticker. Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard has voiced support for the law.
Rider said he voted against the law not because he supports discrimination but because he thinks, “it’s not a flawed concept but flawed legislation.” He said often you can’t legislate people’s thoughts and opinions.
“If someone has a true belief of that, that’s their right in this country,” he said. “We can disagree on that. Why is it every time we disagree it’s considered hate speech?”
Rider said he could have possibly supported the ordinance with amendments that would have excluded off-site work and custom products, which would conceivably address Christians working gay weddings. He said he’s received threats from some people with regard to the restaurants he owns in Carmel, Divvy and Woody’s Library Restaurant, but he said he couldn’t let that sway his vote.
“If this is such as a bad decision and my restaurants go out of business, then God is telling me that something is wrong and to do something else in life,” he said.
Seidensticker said he opposed the ordinance mostly because of the fines, which is similar to Snyder’s comments.
“This ordinance permits you to beat people up to get what you want,” Seidensticker said.
Carter said he supported the ordinance because he saw it as doing what’s right and he said it bothers him when people use The Bible to justify discriminating against gays. He compared it to discrimination against women or black people in U.S. history.
“We continue to want to discriminate to this day based on interpretations of The Bible that frankly I don’t agree with,” Carter said.
Finkam said she supported the ordinance since the beginning but wanted to thank those who opposed the ordinance and shared their views.
“However, I would like to underscore that just because some in our community oppose this ordinance, it does not mean they support discrimination,” she said. “As I mentioned earlier, please be tolerant in return for the diversity of thought.”
An amendment was introduced to allow first time offenders of the ordinance to receive a written warning instead of a $500 fine. Finkam suggested changing a word from “shall” to “may” which meant that Carmel’s City Attorney Doug Haney would have the discretion to give a fine or a warning to first time offenders. That passed and the altered amendment was also unanimously added to the law before it was passed. Some language was also clarified about the procedure.
A proposed “Unity Resolution,” which was meant by some as a replacement for the proposed ordinance, was passed unanimously after the anti-discrimination ordinance was passed.
Concerned citizens from around the state filled the council chambers, causing some to have to listen to the proceedings on speakers in the hallway. While proceedings were mostly civil, one man did flip off Council President Sharp after the vote was announced.
PUBLIC COMMENT FROM THOSE AGAINST THE LAW
Eric Miller, founder of Advance America, said he opposes the law because he said it is discrimination to punish religious business owners who don’t want to support a gay wedding.
“Why would you vote for an ordinance that discriminates against someone who believes that marriage is between one man and one woman?” he asked.
Curt Smith, of the Indiana Family Institute, said he doesn’t buy the economic development argument against RFRA.
“The economy of Indiana is not broken,” he said. “The economy of Carmel is not broken.”
Sue Lile, a member of the Constitutional Patriots, said she’s been a resident of Carmel for 37 years.
“I believe this ordinance goes against our constitutional first amendment rights,” she said.
Micah Clark, executive director of the American Family Association of Indiana, said he used to live in Carmel. He was instrumental in drafting RFRA.
“One of the claims of those that equate homosexual behavior with skin color is that this is somehow good for business,” he said.
John Kerns, a Carmel resident said he believes the ordinance, “is an insult to the decency of folks that live in Carmel.”
“This is the kind of religious persecution you would find under Islamic sharia law,” he said.
PUBLIC COMMENT FROM THOSE FOR THE LAW
JD Ford, an openly gay man that lives in Carmel and ran unsuccessfully against State Sen. Mike Delph, said he’s tired of hearing gay wedding cakes as a reason to be against this law. He said there are serious issues of discrimination at stake here.
“This isn’t about cakes. This is about rights. It’s about fairness for all,” he said.
Denise Moe, a Carmel resident, said the law has serious ramification for economic impact.
“Major employers in Central Indiana – and you’ve heard from several of them tonight – say the lingering effects of RFRA controversy continue to hurt their ability to recruit a talented workforce, especially millennials,” she said. “Business owners also take Indiana’s damaged reputation into account when considering whether to relocate or not.”
Bruce Kimball, who was elected as a city councilor and will take office in January, said he knocked on plenty of doors while campaigning and he was constantly asked about RFRA, which he said he opposed. He said only one resident he met during that canvassing supported RFRA. He said he also had a letter from a local business owner who claimed that business was lost due to RFRA.
Annette Gross is a Carmel resident and mother of a gay son. She said her son was so hurt by some comments at previous meetings that he had to leave the room. She pointed to quick passage of similar ordinances in Zionsville and Columbus.
“It shouldn’t be this difficult to pass this bill,” she said.
Bill Oesterle, former CEO of Angie’s List and now the founder of an organization he calls Tech for Equality, said statewide opponents of this law are the same people behind RFRA and he said it will cause economic damage for the state.
“Eric Miller and Micah Clark have set fire to our state,” he said.
Correction: The original version of this online story stated Eric Miller was the founder of Advance Indiana, which is false. Miller is the founder of Advance America.
Current apologizes for any confusion this may have caused.