Indiana Equality, Jon Keep

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Indiana Equality, Jon Keep

It was a stunning development. An extremely close call followed by a huge collective sigh of relief from Indiana’s LGTB community and other stakeholders when the Indiana House of Representatives Rules and Legislative Procedures Committee voted five to five on April 3 to defeat Senate Resolution 7 (SJR 7), an amendment to the Indiana Constitution banning same-sex marriage. For many, it was also a defining moment for a population segment that has felt marginalized but can now use its growing political clout and influence to overcome its adversaries and empower its own.

Leading the charge to defeat the amendment was Indiana Equality, a statewide, bi-partisan coalition of organizations and individual members, which promotes “equality and justice for all LGTB Hoosiers.” Using a strategic approach, which began in 2005 when the Legislature first passed the amendment, the organization asked members to operate on a grass-roots level to contact their legislators and write letters to editors, formed alliances with domestic violence groups and other allies, and maintained a strong presence in the Statehouse through paid lobbyists who worked with legislators of both parties and other lobbyists on IE’s behalf.

Probably the most successful element of the group’s strategy was the education it provided regarding how the amendment as written with unclear language could effect others, such as unmarried couples, the elderly, children and victims of domestic violence. Hearing IE’s message that the amendment could also effect employee domestic partner benefits were some of Indiana’s largest companies, including Eli Lilly and Co., Cummins, Wellpoint, Emmis Communications and Dow AgroScience.

Indiana Equality may now reasonably lay claim to being the premier political action and lobbying organization representing the interests of Indiana’s LGTB population.

Founded in 2003, IE’s mission is “to secure basic human rights for Indiana’s LGBT citizens,” and has two primary objectives, “amending Indiana’s Civil Rights law to protect against discrimination based on either sexual orientation or gender identity, and ensuring that relationship protections for LGTB couples and families are not outlawed by the amendment [SJR 7] to the State Constitution.” To insure the latter goal, IE has already begun to organize against a referendum on the measure that could still go before the voters in ’08 if lawmakers introduce and approve it next spring.

Led by Jon Keep, Indiana Equality is a nonprofit 501 (c) (4) Indiana corporation. It works with civil rights groups, LGTB organizations and other partners to form regional steering committees across Indiana, representing their community on the IE board of directors.

— Tom Alvarez

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