Same-sex-marriage ban moves forward

Supporters of an amendment to the Indiana Constitution have cleared the first of three hurdles in banning same-sex marriages. The legislation calling for the constitutional amendment passed the Indiana Senate in February by a vote of 42-8, and passed the House of Representatives on March 22 by a vote of 76-23.

In order for the Indiana Constitution to be amended, the legislation that passed this year must be repeated in two years by a separately elected legislative body. If it passes, the measure would then go to Indiana voters on the November 2008 ballot.

Proponents of the ban believe they have the state's best interest at heart and believe the majority of Hoosiers support their efforts in restricting marriage to one man and one woman. "The basic unit of our society is the family, and the cornerstone of the family is marriage, and marriage is the union of one man and one woman," said Rep. Eric Turner, R-Gas City, during the House debate before a vote was called. "A strong consensus has emerged in our country and our state that marriage must be strengthened."

But a recent poll conducted by The Indianapolis Star and WTHR (Channel 13) shows a much larger debate than the one carried out by Indiana legislators this session. It revealed that 51 percent of Democrats oppose changing the Indiana Constitution to ban gay marriage. Favoring the change were 69 percent of Republicans and 50 percent of independents. Overall, 56 percent of Hoosiers are in favor of changing the state Constitution, while 44 percent oppose the measure. The poll had a 3 percent margin of error, leaving the results nearly equally split on the issue.

While Indiana already has a law defining marriage as between one man and one woman, Indiana lawmakers believe changing the state Constitution is a necessary and symbolic move to ensure the sanctity of marriage. Opponents of the measure, however, believe differently.

"The reason we have a Bill of Rights is to protect a minority from the will of the majority. And what we're witnessing now is the tyranny of the majority. There is nothing sacred about majority votes. What's sacred is what's in the Constitution," said Matt Foreman, the executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce.

Much of the attention the amendment has received has focused on the bill's two distinct parts stating that marriage is defined as between one man and one woman and that legal rights of marriage cannot be construed or conferred upon unmarried couples.

Side effects of the second part of the amendment have already been seen in Utah and Ohio where recent passage of constitutional amendments resulted in the inability to protect victims of domestic violence. Because Utah's amendment states that no domestic status or union other than the legal union of one man and one woman has legal sanction or validity, protective orders in the context of an unmarried couple cannot be enforced.

And in Ohio, where domestic violence law applies only to a person "living as a spouse," the new constitutional amendment prohibits Ohio from recognizing a spouse outside the context of a legal union between one man and one woman.

Businesses will also be affected by the amendment. Proponents say it protects businesses because they won't be forced to provide benefits for unmarried couples. Opponents say the amendment will stop business from providing benefits when they'd like to.

Indiana Attorney General Steve Carter, an avid supporter of the amendment, has stated that the change to the Constitution would not affect businesses that choose to offer domestic partnership benefits.

This is not the case in Michigan, however, where Republican Attorney General Mike Cox recently ruled it was illegal, on the basis of the state's same-sex marriage amendment, to offer benefits to same-sex couples.

Cox decided partnership benefits "characterized by reference to the attributes of marriage" fall within the scope of the amendment, which says that "the union of one man and one woman in marriage shall be the only agreement recognized as a marriage or similar union for any purpose."

Many of Indiana's business leaders would be affected should Indiana go the way of Michigan. Cummins Inc. began to offer domestic-partner benefits in 2000, a decision the Indianapolis Business Journal hailed in an editorial titled "Indiana needs more gutsy companies like Cummins."

According to Mark Land, director of public relations for Cummins, "Embracing diverse perspectives and individuals is the right thing to do, but it also makes good business sense. Not only is treating one another with dignity and respect a core value at Cummins, but it also helps create an environment that allows us to compete for the best talent in the world. We do business around the world, and we see our commitment to diversity as part of our competitive advantage."

In 2003, Eli Lilly and Co. followed suit by offering domestic-partner benefits. Lilly spokesman Rob Smith explained, "We simply cannot afford to be at any competitive disadvantage in this war for talent."

The opposition

Senators who voted against a same-sex marriage ban:

Anita Bowser (D-Michigan City) Billie Breaux (D-Indianapolis) John Broden (D-South Bend) Glenn Howard (D-Indianapolis) Tim Lanane (D-Anderson) Earline Rogers (D-Gary) Vi Simpson (D-Bloomington) Sam Smith (D-East Chicago)

Representatives who voted against a same-sex marriage ban:

John Aguilera (D-East Chicago) Dennis Avery (D-Evansville) Jeb Bardon (D-Indianapolis) Charlie Brown (D-Gary) Duane Cheney (D-Portage) Bill Crawford (D-Indianapolis) John Day (D-Indianapolis) Mae Dickinson (D-Indianapolis) Ryan Dvorak (D-South Bend) Craig Fry (D-Mishawaka) Earl Harris (D-East Chicago) Phil Hoy (D-Evansville) Sheila Klinker (D-Lafayette) Linda Lawson (D-Hammond) Ed Mahern (D-Indianapolis) Joe Micon (D-West Lafayette) Win Moses (D-Fort Wayne) David Orentlicher (D-Indianapolis) Matt Pierce (D-Bloomington) Greg Porter (D-Indianapolis) Vernon Smith (D-Gary) Dan Stevenson (D-Hammond) Vanessa Summers (D-Indianapolis)

For more information on the opposition to the amendment contact:

Indiana Equality

Indiana Civil Liberties Union

Rock Indiana!

Indiana Action Network