By Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane (D-Anderson)

Not much good came from the path Governor Pence and Republicans set our state on when they shoehorned RFRA through the legislature. The economic firestorm they touched off scorched our state’s reputation in a way no slick $2 million New York public relations blitz can fully assuage. To their credit though, in their blind ignorance Republicans have set in motion a conversation that will ultimately see the promise of equality under the law for all Hoosiers guaranteed.

First a damage assessment. Indiana business leaders attached a one billion dollar economic price tag – billion with a ‘B’ – to Republicans’ RFRA maelstrom in the form of cancelled contracts, events lost to other cities and businesses putting expansion plans on ice. That estimate also fails to account for the prospective college students, graduates and entrepreneurs who will take their ideas elsewhere. Try explaining to a local restaurant owner with more empty tables than ever and forced to let staff go that RFRA was only a media ‘misperception.’

They can, however credit the media for extending the conversation over RFRA and discrimination beyond the walls of the Statehouse and into kitchens and corporate boardrooms in Indiana and around the world. Everyday Hoosiers, like many in the legislature, were suddenly exposed to how embarrassingly deficient Indiana civil rights protections are. Beyond the few cities and counties with ordinances extending protections, it’s perfectly legal to fire an employee or deny housing or other services simply for being gay. Civil rights do not end at city limits but for LGBT Hoosiers lawful discrimination is the reality they confront every day. For many, RFRA was the first time this ugly truth sunk in.

The days of sidestepping this issue are quickly coming to end for my Republican colleagues. Their close-mindedness will ultimately be the key that unlocks social progress.

The very first bill Senate Democrats will file in 2016 will be one to outlaw discrimination in Indiana by adding protections for LGBT Hoosiers. Republicans cannot shove the issue of equality aside any longer. The bill will be heard, proponents and opponents alike will have their day, testimony will be weighed and I am confident the democratic process will at last see protections afforded to all Hoosiers.

This is no easy course for someone fearful of losing their job simply for being who they are. For them, this conversation can’t come soon enough. For us, for all of Indiana, it’s time.