Gay marriage issue not over for Indiana 

Ben Gleason, a 44-year-old from Brown County, waves a gay pride flag during a rally on the front steps of the Indiana Statehouse Wednesday evening. Gleason, who has been with his partner for 19 years, called for state lawmakers to recognize his commitment to his partner. - MEGAN BANTA
  • Ben Gleason, a 44-year-old from Brown County, waves a gay pride flag during a rally on the front steps of the Indiana Statehouse Wednesday evening. Gleason, who has been with his partner for 19 years, called for state lawmakers to recognize his commitment to his partner.
  • Megan Banta


Despite rulings Wednesday morning by the nation's highest court, Indiana lawmakers can move forward with a push for a constitutional ban on same-sex marriages and civil unions, which are already illegal in the state.

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down a federal law defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman and left it up to each state to make its own decision regarding the definition of a legal marriage.

And though the court appeared to allow for same-sex marriage in California as part of a separate decision, it did not extend that ruling to require all states to recognize same-sex unions.

Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said he was "disappointed" the court overturned the federal Defense of Marriage Act, but he said he was pleased it "confirmed each state's right to address the legal issue of what constitutes one of the most important institutions in our society."

"The members of the General Assembly will be fully equipped to address the issue of the constitutional amendment in the coming legislative session, and with today's decision, I am confident the matter will come before the General Assembly and ultimately be placed on a referenda ballot for voter consideration," Bosma said.

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 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 Bosma and Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, decided to wait until next year to let the U.S. Supreme Court rule.

Legal experts said the Supreme Court's decision allows lawmakers to take up the issue again. Jane Henegar, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, said while it is not clear exactly how the ruling affects Indiana law, it does send the debate of whether to recognize same-sex marriages to the states.

And Allison Fetter-Harrott, who teaches political science at Franklin College, said based on the opinion authored by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the court's decision in U.S. v. Windsor "doesn't change Indiana law."

Fetter-Harrott said the decision to overturn DOMA only affects the federal recognition of same-sex marriage.

Susan Parnas Frederick, senior federal affairs counsel for the National Conference of State Legislatures, said that means in states where same-sex marriage is legal, couples will be eligible for all federal marriage benefits. But she said that may not necessarily be the case in states that decide not to recognize same-sex marriage.

"If a same-sex couple residing in a state that doesn't allow same-sex marriage gets married in a state that does, then returns home, whether or not they're now eligible for federal marriage benefits can vary depending on the benefit," Frederick said.

Fetter-Harrott said neither decision Wednesday answered the question of whether there is a fundamental right to same-marriage, but instead "emphasized the states' autonomy" and left the decision of whether to recognize such a right to the states.

Chris Paulsen, president of Indiana Equality Action, said she hopes the court's rulings will convince lawmakers not to take up the proposed amendment even though the decisions allow for such a provision.

"We hope that the legislators see how the nation's moving and don't move Indiana backwards," Paulsen said.

Ben Gleason, a 44-year-old from Brown County, also hopes that the General Assembly will not pass a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in Indiana.

Gleason, who has been with his partner for almost 19 years, attended a rally outside the Indiana Statehouse on Wednesday evening. He said it's time for the state and federal government to recognize their commitment to each other.

He said doing otherwise would be nothing more than discrimination.

"It's bigotry. We're taxpaying citizens. We're productive. We work hard. We love our families. Our families love us," Gleason said. "And we're no different that anyone else."

Paulsen said Indiana Equality Action, which lobbies for gay rights, is putting together a grassroots campaign encouraging Hoosiers to talk to legislators about abandoning the resolution.

Indiana House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, said he will also push for lawmakers to not take up the issue.

Pelath said he is "embarrassed for those who continue to press the case for inequality" and that legislators need to shift their focus to Indiana's problems, including unemployment and public education, rather than waste Hoosiers' time over such a divisive issue.

"The time has come for Indiana lawmakers to pour their energies into helping our state's struggling middle class," he said. "There is no need to muddy up our state's highest document with an amendment that is likely to be a blemish on Indiana's history."

Paulsen said if the General Assembly does decide to bring up the amendment again, her organization will be prepared.

"We are ready to put on a full campaign to educate Hoosiers about fairness and love and equality," she said.

The Rev. Marie Siroky, who serves as president of the Indianapolis-based Interfaith Coalition on Nondiscrimination, said equality is crucial.

"People are entitled to their own beliefs, but when it comes to law there has to be equality," she said.

Siroky, who was married to a woman three years ago in Iowa, said her organization wants the government to grant same-sex couples "full equality, not just special rights."

But Curt Smith, president of the Indiana Family Institute, said his organization will "continue to support an Indiana constitutional amendment on one man, one woman marriage" and will urge lawmakers to make such an amendment a priority.

Smith said he was glad the Supreme Court left it up to the states to work out, as it allows Indiana to continue discussing whether and how to define marriage in the state constitution.

And he said he hopes the General Assembly will give Indiana voters "the right to decide."

"We believe that voters, not courts, should decide," Smith said.

And he said he believes Hoosiers, given the chance, would affirm the traditional definition of marriage and elevate it to constitutional protection.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence also believes Hoosiers would vote to define marriage as a one man, one woman institution if the issue appears on the ballot.

"Given that opportunity, 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 of the people of our state," he said.

But Paulsen said the court's decisions show that the nation is "leaning toward a more accepting stance."

And she said if Indiana were to go against that trend and ban same-sex marriage on a constitutional level, it could negatively impact the state.

She said it may cause same-sex couples to leave or not enter Indiana to begin with. She said no couple that enjoys the right to a legal marriage in one state would move to a state that would take away that right.

Indiana Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, said he hopes lawmakers do not take measures to make Indiana a state that forces couples to do so.

"As we work to attract the best and brightest to our state, it is imperative that anyone looking to contribute to the Hoosier economy feels welcome," Lanane said.

Henegar said Indiana lawmakers should make people feel welcome, rather than sending an undeniable message to same-sex couples that they will be given secondary treatment.

"The next test will be our ability to pick up that fight for fairness and defeat an effort to put a constitutional amendment denying marriage equality on the Indiana constitution," she said.

Reporter John Sittler contributed to this story. Megan Banta is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students and faculty.

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