In the years since, though, he's seen the opposite. He said he's grown concerned as the religious right has sought to erode what he thinks should be LGBT freedoms, including protection from being fired for being gay, transgender rights to use the bathroom they choose, and the ability to shop anywhere straight customers can.
It's become clear to him the government needs to protect gender identity and sexual orientation as it has other classes.
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He wants the government, and the courts, to make clear people have the freedom to live as their religious beliefs and their consciences dictate. He wants to ensure the faithful are never forced by the government to compromise their convictions, including providing services for same-sex weddings, hiring LGBT employees or, in perhaps a broader issue, providing health care options such as contraception.
Voters like Ayers and Johnson are watching Indiana's
It remains to be seen with whom the majority of voters will side. While polling shows most Americans have grown to accept same-sex marriage, they remain more divided over other LGBT issues.
Catholic candidates see it differently: Where Indiana's
Remember RFRA?: What the debate over religious freedom and LGBT rights means for Hoosiers
According to the latest Gallup polling, 67 percent believe same-sex marriage should be legal. But only a slight majority, 51 percent, think new civil rights laws are needed to protect the LGBT community from discrimination.
And when it comes to transgender issues, the majority, 48 percent to 46 percent, say people should have to use the bathroom of their birth gender.
As LGBT activists and the religious right continue to push for clarity on a variety of issues that so divide voters, the result has been quickly shifting public policy, often dictated by the courts as much as elected officials.
Similar religious backgrounds, but different viewpoints
Donnellly and Braun are both practicing Catholics who say the church has informed their views, but each sees LGBT rights and religious freedom differently, showcasing a divide that exists throughout Indiana.
In Donnelly's case, he has become more supportive of LGBT rights since he was elected to the House in 2006 and then the
His stances evolved on several issues, including supporting but then voting to repeal the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy during his first year in office. He continued that balancing act as congressman, later supporting legislation that would have extended employment protections based on sexual orientation, though not for certain religious organizations.
While Donnelly had supported the LGBT community in certain instances, he opposed one of the most significant issues when he ran as a moderate for the
Months after he took office, though, he said
"I support marriage equality," Donnellly said, "because we are a stronger state and a stronger country when we support inclusion, respect, and equality for all Americans."
He later backed access to
Donnelly has now come to more fully embrace the LGBT community, marching this spring in the Cadillac Barbie Indiana Pride Parade.
"I am hopeful that we can reach a point where all people are respected," he said, "where our businesses can thrive, and where people of all backgrounds see Indiana as a welcoming and inclusive state to live, work, worship, raise their families and contribute to our state."
Braun sees the issues differently. As a state lawmaker from 2014 to 2017, he supported extending protections for religious freedom, while largely opposing pro LGBT issues.
In 2015, Braun voted for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, legislation that put Indiana in the national spotlight because some believed the measure would have allowed businesses to deny services to gays and lesbians for religious reasons. After widespread backlash, he was among those who voted to soften the law.
Braun, though, opposed efforts by
"I believe discrimination anywhere is unacceptable," he said, "and I also believe all Americans have a constitutional right to express their religious beliefs."
During his tenure,
This summer, Braun sided with social conservatives and successfully urged Indiana Republicans to preserve a party platform plank that endorses marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
"I understand these issues can be divisive," he said, "and I would never demonize someone with a different point of view from mine. Where I stand comes from my upbringing and my faith: I'm 100% pro-life and I believe in traditional marriage."
Based on their faith, Braun and Donnelly both oppose abortion rights. Donnelly is among a shrinking handful of anti-abortion
Anti-abortion groups have endorsed Braun, though.
While Braun opposes abortion rights in all instances, including in the cases of rape, incest, and to save the life of the mother, Donnelly makes exceptions in all three cases.
Braun's campaign said he doesn't think businesses should be forced to offer contraception as part of their healthcare plans if they object for religious reasons.
Donnelly's campaign said he believes businesses and for-profit organizations should cover contraception, while nonprofit religious organizations should be able to exercise their religious freedom.
Indiana remains LGBT battleground
Indiana has continued to be a battleground in the line between LGBT equality and religious freedom.
In the 2017
While LGBT rights activists think firing someone based on their sexual preference is wrong, religious rights activists believe such institutions have the right to live by rules dictated by their faith.
Religious rights also spill over into non-LGBT issues. A student-led group filed a lawsuit in June after Notre Dame and the Trump administration reached an agreement that allowed the Catholic university to require an out-of-pocket payment for some birth control and to not cover others.
Religious right activists think the church should have the right to refuse services that run counter to its tenets, while others think women should have the same right to contraception no matter where they work.
Trump administration backs religious freedom
Like many evangelicals, Johnson, who heads the
Johnson said the Obama administration, and its court appointments, trampled on religious liberty for eight years, culminating with the legalization of same-sex marriage.
"We're forcing people to violate their consciences, forcing people to conduct their businesses in a way they don't believe honors their Lord or their faith," Johnson said.
The majority of white evangelicals, 81 percent, voted for Trump, a higher percentage than backed the last three Republican presidential candidates. They have had much to celebrate during the past two years and many would like to see Braun become a part of extending that success during the next six years.
Among Trump's actions pleasing to evangelicals:
?He signed an executive order aimed at giving religious groups and individuals broad protections to express their beliefs when they come into conflict with government regulations, including when making hiring decisions.
?Trump signed an executive order that eased restrictions on political activity by tax-exempt churches and charities and directed federal agencies to exempt certain religious organizations from providing contraception coverage as required in the Affordable Care Act.
?Trump, with the
Conservatives have been watching the courts closely.
Boyer said Stutzman, like herself, harbors no ill will or hate within her heart for the LGBT community, and is merely following the dictates of the Bible.
Boyer thinks it's unfair the courts could punish Stutzman for her beliefs, noting the gay couple that sought to hire Stutzman could have used a different florist.
"My No. 1 focus is the
"It's hard to imagine, but we haven't gotten gay rights by anybody voting," Bopp said. "It's the courts that have affirmed the liberal cultural agenda."
Bopp has been at the forefront of the issue in
He said those with religious beliefs are the ones being targeted for discrimination.
"The gay right activists who have been targeting Christians are intolerant to any diversity of thought or action," he said. "(The LGBT activists) are not willing to include Christians in society, they want to drive them out of business and out of the public square."
LGBT support falters after same-sex marriage
After same-sex marriage was legalized in 2015, Ayers was among the many people who headed to the altar, marrying his longtime partner. He said it felt good to be accepted by society, if not by everyone he knew.
Now, he's backing Donnelly, worrying his rights will be eroded if more religious conservatives are elected to office.
"I feel like we were on a good path a few years ago and now we are heading in the opposite direction," he said, "and it's alarming. I think they are clearly doing it as a covert disguise for discrimination against the LGBT community."
Ayers isn't alone. The
In the wake of the RFRA debate,
Right now, he said, the courts seem to be positioned as the referee in the debate. But he hopes one day
"It'll happen some day," he said. "But until then you have to chip at it state by state and legal case by legal case."
The marriage decision, he thinks, was a game changer. Future gains seem destined to happen more slowly.
"I think Trump's election and the rise of the hyper conservative of the far right makes it look like that," he said, "but they can't take away our marriages. They can, and they will, tinker with the edges and they can and will pester ... the transgender community, but once we got marriage, the other specific rights and obligations will happen."
She said no one wants to lose their job, their house or be refused service because of who they are. She thinks those protections can co-exist with religious freedom, and would support certain carve outs for houses of worship and religious organizations.
"I have had many conversations about religious freedom and LGBTQ rights for a number of years," she said, "and I think there is a happy medium that can be reached, where religion is still honored, but every human is given basic rights."
He says different Christian groups disagree on the meaning of scriptures as applied to the LGBT community. He said, after studying scripture, his congregation has decided that sexual orientation and gender identity are not opposed to Christian tradition.
"When it comes to the public," he said, "we should be welcoming and serving everyone, not picking and choosing based on our unevenly applied religious values. Members of my congregation are worried that things are going to slip back and they are watching the election very closely."
Voters will have their say
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