Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Governor Rebuffs Miller: Won't Allow Discrimination in State Government

Governor Mitch Daniels, a Republican, yesterday dealt a blow to Eric Miller's and Advance America's advocacy of legalized discrimination against Indiana citizens based upon their sexual orientation when he issued the Administration's first EEO Policy Statement, which specifically prohibits discrimination in state hiring, firing and promotion based upon a person's sexual orientation or gender identity. The policy reads in part that "sexual orientation and gender identity shall not be a consideration in decisions concerning hiring, development, advancement, and termination of civilian employees." The policy statement continues, "Further, we will strive to maintain a working environment free of sexual harassment and intimidation." The policy statement also encourages more "progressive affirmative action in state employment."

The only disappointing aspect of the policy is its exclusion of non-civilian employees, such as military personnel serving in the state's guard units. A federal statute signed into law by former President Clinton, known as "Don't Ask Don't Tell" allows discrimination in the military based upon a person's sexual orientation. Since its enactment, the number of military personnel discharged because of their sexual orientation has grown substantially.

Former Governor Frank O'Bannon had adopted a similar EEO policy, which was reaffirmed by former Governor Joe Kernan upon his succession to office. Governor Daniels had adopted a similar policy for his gubernatorial campaign committee while he was seeking the office last year. Daniels downplayed his position at the time because of the heated battle he had to wage against Eric Miller for the Republican nomination. Daniels met secretly with a handfull of gays and lesbians to assure them he opposed discrimination against gays and lesbians after winning the Republican nomination. Publication of the meeting, however, set off a firestorm with Miller and his Advance America organization. Miller and his minions threatened to withhold their support of Daniels if he did not support their position opposing the extension of civil rights protections to persons based upon their sexual orientation and gender identity. Daniels had been earlier criticized by many civil rights advocates, including me, for failing to issue a statement earlier. He attributed the need to deal with pressing legislative issues as the reason for the delay. His staff also maintained that the non-discrimination policy adopted by the Kernan administration had remained in full force and effect upon his taking office.

Governor Daniels should be applauded for standing up to Miller and Advance America on this critical issue. Since Governor Daniels obviously agrees with the need for this type of civil rights protection for state employees, he should agree that similar protections should be afforded to all Indiana citizens. It is the hope of Advance Indiana that Daniels will not in the future buckle under to pressure from Miller and his organization. He showed true leadership in adopting his Administration's EEO Policy Statement, knowing that he would come under fire from Miller and Advance America.

Daniel's approval of this policy can only be viewed as a major setback to Miller and Advance America. This comes on the heels of two big victories for his organization. Advance America and Miller successfully advocated the passage of SJR 7 during the past legislative session, which would amend the Indiana Constitution to specifically ban same sex marriages and civil unions. He also succeeded in defeating the adoption of a new civil rights ordinance for the City of Indianapolis, which would have extended civil rights protections to gays, lesbians and transgendered persons. Miller, a Republican who exerts tremendous influence over Indiana Republican politics, can only be viewed as weakened when the state's highest ranking Republican rebuffs his agenda. It also demonstrates bipartisanship on the critical issue of civil rights. And that is a victory that all Hoosiers can celebrate.

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