Same-sex marriage amendment dies in committee

Civil and human rights proponents, as well as those advocating on behalf of domestic violence victims and Indiana’s economic development potential, scored a substantial victory on April 3 when the Indiana House of Representative’s Rules and Legislative Procedures Committee voted five to five to defeat Senate Joint Resolution 7 (SJR 7), an amendment to the Indiana Constitution banning same-sex marriage.

All Republican members voted in support of the amendment, as did one Democrat. The five opposing votes were all cast by Democrats.

The first sentence, or part A, of SJR 7 defined marriage as the union between a man and a woman. But it was the second sentence, or part B, which required that state law “may not be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents of marriage be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups,” some believe caused the amendment’s undoing.

Deserving at least partial credit for the amendment’s defeat is Indiana Equality, a statewide coalition of organizations and individual members that promotes “equality and justice for LGBT Hoosiers.” Ever since 2005 when the Legislature first passed the amendment, the bi-partisan, grass-roots organization has taken a strategic approach: asking members to operate on a grass-roots level to contact their legislators and write letters to editors; forming alliances with domestic violence groups and other allies; and maintaining a strong presence in the Statehouse through its lobbyists John Johnette and Mark St. John of Lamda Consulting, who worked with legislators of both parties and other lobbyists.

“We also encouraged all Hoosiers to read the fine print, namely the second sentence so that they’d be aware of how the amendment as written would affect every one — unmarried couples, how it would affect elder care, child care, people with benefits and so forth,” says Indiana Equality President Jon Keep.

Ultimately, though, it was the legislative committee that had to be convinced. “Making these legislators aware of the unclear nature of that second part is what helped to defeat the amendment,” Keep says.

Agreeing that the defeat and Indiana Equality’s leadership in that effort are watersheds in the evolution of LGTB politics, Kathy Sarris, chair of the organization’s Education Fund, says, “The last two years have been an absolute roller coaster but it has been an incredible leap forward in terms of gay politics in Indiana. I’m not surprised though because if you put the best possible people in the Legislature who know what they’re doing, you can maneuver around. That’s where we’ve been successful and we did it on a very small budget.”

Theorizing how this entire episode may have affected voters, Keep says that “Many people have become tired of  ‘gay marriage’ being used as a wedge issue. They now realize that marriage between a man and a woman is already state law. They want their legislators to stay focused on important issues such as education and property taxes,” Keep says.

“I think Hoosiers are incredibly fair-minded,” Sarris says. I think the longer they looked at this issue they realized that it was about creating a wedge. It wasn’t about marriage. It was about gaining votes by convincing people that they need to feel superior to someone else. All that doesn’t bode well with the majority of Hoosiers. The longer we can elevate the discussion by talking about tolerance and why its good for everybody the more we gain support for our position.”

Another influential group, comprised of some of Indiana’s largest companies including Eli Lilly and Co., Cummins, WellPoint, Emmis Communications and Dow AgroScience, was instrumental in turning the tide of public opinion in the days leading up to the vote. Speaking against the amendment, the companies express concern that it would send the message that Indiana is an intolerant state, negatively impacting their businesses by preventing them from recruiting and retaining first-rate employees.

A referendum on the measure could still go before the voters in ’08 if lawmakers introduce and approve it next spring but, according to Sarris, “It’s going to lay until next session. It’ll probably come limping back but it’s sadly wounded.”


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