Story and Photos by Jesse Wilson
Hundreds of people gathered in downtown Indianapolis at the Artsgarden to kick start Freedom Indiana, a gay rights coalition that is launching a campaign to stop a proposed constitutional amendment to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
"We'll fight this fight at the Statehouse and if we don't prevail there, we're going to be ready to share our stories with every voter who will listen" said the coalition's head, Megan Robertson.
The coalition includes some of the state's biggest businesses — including Eli Lilly & Co. and Cummins — and a number of organizations that support civil and human rights issues.
"There is an economic impact involved with this legislation," said Larry Summers, a member of the board of directors for Freedom Indiana. "We want to make sure that they recognize that and that it would be in the best interests of the state to eliminate this legislation."
The proposed constitutional amendment would define marriage as the union of one man and one woman. A second part of the amendment prohibits lawmakers from creating a status for same-sex couples that is similar to marriage.
Robertson said that the coalition's goal is to defeat the entire amendment. But she said victory would also be simply eliminating the amendment's second line.
The GOP-controlled Indiana General Assembly approved the measure easily in 2011. But to amend the state constitution, the proposal must pass two separately elected legislatures. That means lawmakers must pass it next session for it to appear on the 2014 election ballot for possible ratification by voters.
Lawmakers could have acted on the amendment earlier this year, but House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, and Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, decided to wait until next year to let the U.S. Supreme Court rule.
That ruling – released in June – struck down a federal law defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman but left it up to each state to make its own decision regarding the definition of a legal marriage. That means the proposed amendment in Indiana can move forward.
Ryan McCann, director of operations and public policy at Indiana Family Institute, said the new Freedom Indiana campaign is "not unanticipated but it's unfortunate."
"The amendment will just allow Hoosier citizens to define what is once and for all," he said. "If you don't give citizens the opportunity to vote, you let judges make the decision. We should just let democracy work."
McCann predicts the campaign against the amendment won't be successful. He said the marriage amendment passed the General Assembly with an overwhelming vote in 2011 and pointed out that the leaders of the House and Senate have said they'll be a vote on the proposal in 2014.
"I think if you look at the make up of the legislature, it would be very hard to kill the marriage amendment," he said.
But Robertson said polls show that "opinions on this are trending in a different direction than when those votes were taken."
A poll late last year by WISH-TV and the Bowen Institute at Ball State University showed that 45 percent of respondents supported same-sex marriage while 45 percent of people opposed it. Those in support of same-sex marriage were typically younger and more educated.
"In addition I've talked to a lot of legislators, and I know others have as well who frankly aren't comfortable with that language anymore, specifically they are uncomfortable with the second line," Robertson said.
McCann said the Indiana Family Institute said will be "very involved" in a public campaign to pass the amendment. And he said the group – and other supporters – should be able to raise the money needed to be competitive.
"It's going to be almost like a governor's race or a race for U.S. Congress," he said. "It's going to be a big deal."
The 2014 General Assembly convenes in January.
Jesse Wilson is a reporter at TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students and faculty.
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