Monday, July 8, 2013

The madness of King Mike: Pence denies reality

Posted by on Mon, Jul 8, 2013 at 9:00 AM

We're used to finding Indianapolis ranked toward the bottom of national surveys measuring things like air quality, educational attainment and obesity. So it came as a pleasant surprise to learn that Indy is ranked the ninth best city in the country for happy marriages.

Sharecare, an interactive health and wellness website in Atlanta, drew on a sample of 250,000 people for this finding. According to Sharecare, Indianapolis folks tend to marry younger and stay married longer. This is significant because Sharecare finds that happily married people are healthier - at lower risk for heart disease and cancer.

If you're that man and woman Gov. Mike Pence likes to talk about when he talks about marriage, this is great news. You're even less likely to be in a car accident. But if you're part of a same-sex couple - and you live in Indiana - well, I'd think about moving to another state, if I were you.
Gay couples everywhere were understandably elated when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Not only did this ruling make it possible for married gays to qualify for federal benefits, it asserted their status as first-class citizens, entitled to the same rights as anyone else. As Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority: "[DOMA] is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity. By seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others, the federal statute is in violation of the Fifth Amendment."

But Pence doesn't see it that way. That's because Pence lives in Indiana and, as far as he is concerned, being a Hoosier trumps being an American. When he heard about the Supreme Court ruling, Pence promised to double down on Republican efforts to pass an amendment to Indiana's state constitution making gay marriage forever out of bounds.

"I am confident that Hoosiers will reaffirm our commitment to traditional marriage and will consider this important question with civility and respect for the values and dignity of all the people of our state," said Pence. What he failed to mention is that his position on this "important question" is squarely aimed at denying the "values and dignity" of gay people who want to be married.

It's bad enough that Pence and his ilk seem bent on turning America into a grab bag of disunited states. If a person's marriage is recognized in California but declared illegal in Indiana, you have to ask yourself what being an American citizen means. We don't carry Indiana passports, but maybe that's next. The effect of denying gay people marriage rights amounts to saying they live in a different country. Or wishing they would.

What may be worse, though, is what an antigay marriage amendment to our constitution would say about Indiana's grip on reality. Whether Hoosiers are willing to admit it or not, gay people are among our most influential and productive citizens. Just look, for example, at Indianapolis' arts and culture scene. It is common knowledge that gays, many of them in committed relationships, play leading roles across a wide range of the city's landmark institutions. This has been true for years.

These people are accomplished professionals. They raise large sums of money, help shape public policy and work to sustain and enhance Indy's reputation. Because this is a city that values team players ahead of individualists, they tend not to make a big deal about their so-called lifestyles. This makes it easy for the rest of us to congratulate ourselves about how broad-minded and tolerant we are.

But it also leaves the door open for political cynics like Pence and his bigoted cronies. While the rest of us are busy trying to look like whatever passes for normal around here, they have been getting themselves elected to public offices and dreaming up ideas like a constitutional amendment to relegate an entire group of people to second-class citizenship. This is discriminatory and, thanks to that recent Supreme Court decision, unconstitutional. It also flies in the face of real life as it is experienced in Indianapolis and, I suspect, many other communities around the state.

Pence and Co. will soft-pedal their ill will by saying all they want is to put a constitutional ban to a vote. As the governor says, he is "confident" a majority of Hoosiers will vote their prejudice against gay marriage. But mustering these votes won't make this amendment any less hateful. As founding father and architect of the Bill of Rights James Madison warned: "If [one] sect form a majority and have the power, other sects will be sure to be depressed."

And Indiana will be sure to find itself in never-never land. Pence and his Republican super majority can ignore the U.S. Supreme Court. They can cloak bigotry by calling it due process, making the state's constitution an affront to an entire class of people. But this denial of reality will only serve to cut Indiana off from its own future. It won't make us smarter or healthier - and our marriages won't be any happier.

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