Hundreds of people gathered in August 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.
Photo by Jesse Wilson, TheStatehouseFile.com
A Central Indiana business group announced Tuesday that it will join an effort opposing a constitutional amendment that defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
Officials at the Indy Chamber - which represents 3,000 businesses with 235,000 workers - said members are uncertain about the proposed amendment's impacts on employer-provided benefits, human rights ordinances and legal contracts.
"The Indy Chamber is in the business of strengthening our economy and attracting top talent to our region," said John Thompson, chair of the Indy Chamber's board of directors. "The proposed marriage amendment does nothing to help show the nation that Indiana is a place that welcomes all, not just some, and we must be mindful of how actions such as this will impact our competitiveness on a national and global level."
The Indy Chamber's executive committee approved the position statement on Tuesday.
Supporters of the constitutional amendment responded by saying the chamber's decision was "unfortunate."
"According to Kiplinger Financial Magazine, the top five states for best business growth in 2012 and 2013 all have marriage protection amendments," said Micah Clark, executive director of the American Family Association of Indiana. "The myth that public policy support for traditional marriage is somehow bad for business is nothing more than a red herring and a scare tactic."
Clark said the "future of marriage belongs in the hands of Hoosier voters, not the board room of the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce."
Still, the local chamber joins a growing list of companies and organizations taking a stand against the amendment, which has already passed the Republican-controlled General Assembly once. It needs a second approval in 2014 to be placed on the ballot for voter ratification next year.
Republican legislative leaders said earlier this year that they expected the amendment would pass in 2014. But more recently, the GOP majority caucuses have been meeting behind closed doors to discuss the amendment.
Any delay or changes in the amendment means the lengthy amendment process starts over.
Opponents of the amendment have joined forces as Freedom Indiana, which issued a statement Tuesday about the chamber's position.
"The Indy Chamber represents the voices of hundreds of businesses in Indianapolis and the Central Indiana region, and we look forward to working with them to support Indiana's economic future by protecting liberty for all Hoosiers," the group said.
Already, two of Central Indiana's largest employers - Eli Lilly & Co. and Cummins - have opposed the amendment and joined Freedom Indiana. But the Indiana Chamber of Commerce - which represents businesses statewide - has not joined.
When asked for a response to the Indy Chamber's announcement, state chamber spokeswoman Rebecca Patrick forward the following statement attributed to the group's president, Kevin Brinegar:
"We have members on both sides of the issue, so we have not adopted a position either in favor or opposed to the proposed constitutional amendment."
The Indy Chamber said in a policy statement that the marriage amendment could make it harder for Indiana to retain its college graduates.
The "necessity to ease this 'brain drain' by attracting talent on a national scale would be inhibited by adopting an unnecessary, discriminatory amendment with fading support from younger generations," the Indy Chamber said. "As the only potential marriage amendment up for consideration nationwide in 2014, it is important to be mindful of the conspicuous part (it) would play in portraying Indiana as a state that welcomes some, but not all, talented workers."
Also, the chamber said that while same-sex marriage "continues to be a divisive issue in Indiana, there is sustained, growing evidence of discomfort among citizens with adding a broad, discriminatory amendment to our state's constitution."
The proposed marriage amendment reads:
"Only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Indiana. A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized."
Polls have shown that Hoosiers are changing their views on the amendment and same-sex marriage. A poll released by Freedom Indiana found that about two-thirds of Hoosiers are uncomfortable with the constitutional amendment but many fewer say they would actually vote against it.
A poll released by the Indiana Family Institute, which supports the amendment, found that two-thirds of Hoosier voters favor defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
Officials at the Indiana Family Institute did not immediately return a message seeking comment on the Indy Chamber's decision. But earlier this month, Curt Smith, the group's president, said the "Hoosier electorate has a very settled opinion on the topic of marriage."
"When given approximately a dozen arguments for and approximately a dozen arguments against the marriage amendment, the results were strikingly similar," he said. "This is a remarkably stable, well-informed electorate that will be voting on this issue in 2014."
Lesley Weidenbener is managing editor of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students and faculty.
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Indiana's Republican legislative leaders said Monday they will leave the decision about how to proceed on HJR-6 up to the membership of their caucuses. On the same day, an interfaith coalition pressed them to drop the issue.