This tradition better stopDavid Hoppe
Three weeks ago I wrote in this space about how Republicans manipulate Christian fundamentalists by promising to do something about such things as abortion, media smut and prayer in the schools. I pointed out that Republicans have a history of using these issues to get elected and then forgetting about them. These observations were prompted by Indiana House majority leader Brian Bosma's telling the Indianapolis Star that passing a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage was being put on a back burner in light of the need to address the state's economic woes. Once again, the state of Indiana is in serious trouble.
I was scornful about the cynical way Republicans play on socially divisive prejudices in order to bait single-issue voters. But I was also somewhat relieved. Republicans might be hypocrites, but they have also shown a proper respect for reality. That is, they have recognized that trying to impose a narrow, mean-spirited set of values upon what is, in fact, a diverse, complicated community is not only impossible, it's self-destructive. I expected that the drive to write an anti-gay amendment into the state's constitution would gradually fade into the background of this legislative session, to be resurrected the next time Republicans wanted to rile up their so-called "base."
I was mistaken.
It turns out a group of Republican state senators are hellbent on making sure the amendment, officially known as Senate Joint Resolution No. 7, becomes part of Indiana's constitution. One of the bill's sponsors, John Waterman, from Shelburn, has written that such an amendment is necessary in order foil what he calls a "homosexual agenda." In a newsletter sent to his constituents, Waterman stated: "Because they can't reproduce, homosexuals have to recruit! We must continue to fight back in order to preserve our children's innocence... " (See Cover Story, pgs. 12)
Waterman's rhetoric was echoed by Michelle Montgomery, a self-described wife and mother, who testified on behalf of the amendment before the state senate. Montgomery said that gay marriage would lead to "the extinction of the human race because these people don't reproduce."
Finally, Sen. Brandt Hershman of Monticello said the amendment was necessary in order to "protect" the institution of marriage. "This is the way it's always been in Indiana, in America, in the world, in the history of civilization," he claimed.
This kind of oratory, along with the force of numbers provided by a Republican majority, has enabled SR 07 to pass out of committee and on to the senate floor for readings and a vote.
And, once again, the state of Indiana is in serious trouble.
If SR 07 is passed, it won't be the first time that Indiana lawmakers have succumbed to paranoia and bigotry. In the 1920s, D.C. Stephenson, the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan, proclaimed, "I am the law in Indiana." In 1924, one in every three Hoosier men belonged to the KKK, with its nativist contempt for Blacks, Catholics and Jews, and the Klan was responsible for electing the mayor of Indianapolis and the state's governor. Stephenson was eventually convicted of second degree murder; the mayor and governor were indicted for corruption. This is a legacy the state is still trying to live down.
Governor Mitch Daniels has rightly said that his top priority is revitalizing Indiana's economy. He's got his work cut out for him: According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Indiana is one of the least educated states in the country, ranking 44th out of 50 in the percentage of people age 25 and older with a college degree. And an Indiana University survey has found that between 1998 and 2001, the state lost more than 600 businesses. With news like this, Daniels must flinch every time Senators Waterman, Hershman and their cohorts open their mouths to speak.
That's because a growing body of evidence shows that there's a link between economic success and social tolerance. Put another way, intolerance is for losers. Over 90 of the Fortune 100 companies ban workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation. Nationally, more than 7,400 companies offer benefits to same-sex partners.
Researchers Richard Florida and Gary Gates have found that communities that show tolerance for gays, as well as for a variety of other lifestyles, tend to show high rates of economic growth. Boston, San Francisco and Seattle, three of the country's high-tech hot spots, are also communities that rank high in terms of gay tolerance.
After enacting anti-gay legislation, Cincinnati, by its own admission, has lost $46 million in convention business. That city's biggest employers, Procter and Gamble and Federated Department Stores, have joined in efforts to overturn this regressive law because they have found it discourages talented people and businesses from relocating there.
Mitch Daniels must know these things. His former employer, Eli Lilly, offers domestic partner benefits. Lilly says this policy became necessary so the company could compete for the best people in its field.
Daniels' choice is clear. He can try to paper over the most hysterical retreat from tolerance this state has seen since the 1920s, or he can get in front of Waterman, Hershman and their ilk and declare that enough is enough. That Indiana cannot - and will not - build second class citizenship, for gays or anyone else, into its constitution. Standing up to the demagogues in his own party will take courage. But the state's future depends on it.