Debating the same-sex marriage amendment
The Indiana Statehouse is at once imposing and empowering. Massive pillars, immense ceilings and hard marble floors drape grandeur over an environment already steeped in power and prestige. All three branches of Indiana government conduct their business from inside the symbolic and functional limestone walls that stand more than a century since they were laid in place.
And nothing evokes democracy more than the citizens who pass through the massive wooden doors and hear their footsteps echo in the halls.
Busloads of elementary school children sit cross-legged on the floor of the rotunda, their bodies squirming against the directive to sit still and their heads turning up towards the blue stained glass above their heads.
News crews scurry around the small obstacles scattered across the floor, while a small group of senior citizen visitors stop to listen to the tour guide's anecdotes about state history.
The professionals seem to stick to the outside corridors and avoid the rotunda and the main open floors. Offices line every wall on all five floors of the building and elevators are never idle for long as lawmakers and their staffs move between offices and floors and meeting rooms.
Not much seems to have changed in the Statehouse since the late 1890s, when a Finnish visitor wrote that "in its halls one can meet people of all kinds," including "small boys with crackers in their hands, men who squirt tobacco juice on the stairs, schoolgirls, tourists, college students, and women dressed in silk."
And on this particular Tuesday in early February, an array of citizen advocates and adversaries of an amendment to the state Constitution banning same-sex marriage, have come to the Statehouse for their opportunity to affect state law and state history.
For several years now, Indiana lawmakers and citizens have crafted public policy and debated the subject of same-sex marriages.
Today will be another in a long string of days during which lawmakers will publicly debate whether or not to allow homosexual couples the right to marry and access to the variety of rights legalized marriage provides.
Senate Joint Resolution No. 7 is a proposal to amend the Indiana state Constitution making explicit the definition of marriage as only between one man and one woman. Today it is being heard in a Senate committee meeting where the public is invited to speak for and against it.
The same amendment passed the Senate last year, but it sparked a huge debate in the House of Representatives. At the time, Democrats held the majority and refused to schedule a floor vote, causing the bill to die. The Republicans staged a walkout and business at the Statehouse came to a halt for over a week.
Having won the majority of seats in both the House and Senate this past November, Republicans have reintroduced Senate Joint Resolution No. 7 and are confident of its expected passage by both houses this session.
In order for the amendment to be ratified, the resolution must pass the Senate and House this session, pass the Senate and House again following the election of 2006, then receive the majority of votes as a ballot issue in November of 2008.
Indiana has outlawed same-sex marriage since the passage of the Defense of Marriage Act as state law in 1997. Indiana law clearly states in IC 31-11-1-1: "Same sex marriages prohibited. Sec. 1. (a) Only a female may marry a male. Only a male may marry a female. (b) A marriage between persons of the same gender is void in Indiana even if the marriage is lawful in the place where it is solemnized."
Marriage as an institution has changed dramatically over the last century, and its consideration as a contract between two adults who are free to enter or exit the contract at any time has yet to become the standard practice, though it is the law.
The same groups fighting against gay marriage today fought against divorce as early as the 1870s when Protestant ministers began calling for a national constitutional amendment to ban divorce. And for a time in the early 1900s, congressional debate focused on a national divorce law.
It is not simply the sanctity of marriage that propels the same-sex marriage ban. Tradition provides not only a framework for marriage but also a history of castigating homosexuality.
Colonial lawmakers and religious leaders were one in the same, and their edicts reflected Puritan attitudes towards all sexual activity.
In this era, the "sin of Sodom" and the metaphor of an angry God destroying Sodom and Gomorrah were particularly potent for the new arrivals with a precarious foothold on civilization and, until the 1820s, most states continued to allow capital punishment in the sentencing of "sodomitical practices."
In addition to its sinful nature, homosexuality was further stigmatized when it came under the purview of modern science.
Throughout the 19th century and for much of the 20th, the budding medical science profession diagnosed homosexuality as a form of mental illness with remedies including castration, hysterectomy, lobotomy, electroshock and aversion therapy.
The shifting definitions of homosexuality from a sinful criminal act to a depraved mental condition have stalled in recent years, though both remain in use and firmly embraced by the advocates of a same-sex marriage amendment.
Last month the Indiana Court of Appeals unanimously upheld the law and ruled that it does not violate any requirements of the Constitution. But the sponsors of the resolution working its way through the Indiana General Assembly this session have little faith that view will hold. With other states and courts finding that same-sex couples are constitutionally entitled to legally recognized unions, Indiana lawmakers are taking action.
By changing the state Constitution, every future legal challenge to Indiana's same-sex marriage ban becomes irrelevant. Opponents will have little cause to argue for rights under a Constitution that specifically forbids their legal claim to those rights.
Supporters of the amendment believe that without this intervention, liberal judges and the extremist agenda of a small minority will triumph over morality and tradition and overturn laws like those in Indiana that specifically ban same-sex marriage.
It is a risk they are not willing to take.
Today's hearing is being held in Senate chambers on the third floor of the Statehouse, and the balcony one floor above is open to visitors. Though the hearing began at 8:30 a.m., SJR 07 is not brought up until after
10 a.m., and by that time all of the more than 100 seats are full.
Sen. John Waterman sits at the front of the room, just in front of the podium where each speaker addresses the committee members and audience. A 10 year veteran of the state legislature, he is one of the sponsors of SJR 07 and one of its most ardent supporters.
Sen. John Waterman
The core constituency behind SJR 07 is traditionalists who, whether or not they base their argument explicitly on the Bible, believe marriage has always been and should always be a sacred and civil union between one man and one woman only.
Waterman personifies that view in his firmly held belief that the legal recognition of a homosexual union is the next step in "the implementation of a larger homosexual agenda."
"The ultimate goal" of the homosexual agenda, according to Waterman, "involves the enlistment of our children. Because they can't reproduce, homosexuals have to recruit!"
Though the senator does not testify himself during the hearing, his sentiments are echoed by nearly every speaker who takes his or her turn proclaiming the virtues of the amendment.
When Committee Chair David Long explains the proceedings of this hearing, one hour allotted for testimony by supporters of the resolution and one hour allotted for opponents of the resolution, he also warns that public outbursts in reaction to the speakers' comments will not be tolerated.
Former Republican gubernatorial candidate and Advance America founder Eric Miller took to the microphone. In Miller's view, "Traditional marriage is the foundation of every society. Banning same-sex marriages and civil unions will prove to be the greatest moral battle of this generation."
To illustrate his threat of impending doom, Miller warned that the failure to prevent same-sex marriage with a constitutional amendment would result in the indoctrination of children as homosexuals.
Citing Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family, the same man who recently decried SpongeBob SquarePants as working to forward the homosexual agenda, Miller warned that activists in Massachusetts are designing curriculum guides that will introduce homosexuality to children in kindergarten.
"We must not let this happen in Indiana! We must amend our Constitution to defend the definition of marriage between one man and one woman in order to protect our children including those in kindergarten," he said, pounding his fists on the podium for emphasis.
The Rev. Rick Hawks, who founded The Chapel, a Christian church in Ft Wayne after losing a bid for Congress in the fourth district, also spoke in support of the amendment.
Hawks encouraged the senators to remember how the "free love of the 1960s and '70s morality led to a decline of civilization" and how "children are the ones who suffer."
The words of the Rev. Andrew Hunt of Indianapolis seemed to admonish those with the audacity to call gay marriage a civil rights issue: "You cannot equate my God-given pigmentation with human learned perversion."
Downstairs, one supporter whispered to his companion, "That's right. You don't go to hell for being black."
Only one of the Democrat senators in the room ever challenged the supporters of the same-sex marriage ban on their religious agenda and homophobia.
Longtime Sen. Anita Bowser failed to stifle several audible expressions of dissent. On several occasions she pressed the supporters to "answer one simple question: what are you afraid of? What are you afraid will happen if gay people are allowed to marry?"
Though her passionate inquiry drew spontaneous and loud applause from the balcony, Miller did not respond and Chairman Long chided Sen. Bowser for being "off the question at hand."
When Christopher Douglas took his turn in the queue of speakers, he introduced himself as a Republican, small business owner, officer of the United States Air Force, and the founder of the Indy Rainbow Chamber of Commerce.
Douglas began his testimony by boasting of his ancestral ties to the Senate chambers where he stood debating the ban on gay marriage.
For him, opposition to the constitutional amendment is analogous to his grandfather's victory as a state legislator over the Ku Klux Klan when they sought to highjack the agenda of the Statehouse in the 1920s.
Holding up a picture of his family's farm, Douglas urged the senators to consider the legacy of bigotry they would be leaving their grandchildren rather than the pride he inherited as the grandchild of an Indiana legislator.
Kathy Williams of the Indiana Civil Liberties Union represented the views of many who oppose the resolution when she addressed the civil liberty protections risked by a constitutional amendment.
Williams told lawmakers, "We oppose a constitutional amendment to ban marriage between people of the same gender, because it interferes with our most essential civil liberties: the freedom of each of us to love and commit to the person of our choosing, and to have the protections afforded to others who make lifetime commitments through marriage, and who have families."
Sen. Anita Bowser
Much of the attention the amendment received by the opposition focused on the bill's two distinct parts stating a) that marriage is defined as between one man and one woman and b) stating that legal rights of marriage cannot be construed or conferred upon unmarried couples.
Williams and others pointed out that serious side effects of the second part of the amendment have already been seen in Utah and Ohio where the passage of a constitutional amendment resulted in the legal system's 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.
Opponents also warn that adoption and foster care laws will be affected in Indiana. Currently the law allows unmarried couples, whether gay or straight, to jointly adopt or be foster parents. If the amendment passes, and unmarried couples have no legal status, they will be prevented from adopting or providing foster homes.
Businesses will also be affected by the amendment. Proponents say the amendment protects businesses because they won't be forced to provide benefits for unmarried couples. Opponents disagree and warn that the amendment will prevent businesses that want to do so from providing benefits.
Currently, Ball State University, Indiana University, Purdue University, and Indiana State University all extend domestic-partner benefits to unmarried couples, including same-sex couples, as do large corporations such as Eli Lilly.
Opponents say the change will result in the loss of benefits for thousands of Indiana residents, and the loss of economic revenue and development when these industries are unable to attract workers in progressive industries.
Shelia Kennedy, associate professor of law and public policy at IUPUI, also spoke in opposition of the amendment. Like Douglas and Williams, she too urged lawmakers to consider the future implications of the amendment.
"Americans historically have chosen to limit the ability of government to interfere with our lives, or to treat citizens differently based upon skin color, religion or other markers of identity. That is partly because - as the saying goes - poison gas is a great weapon until the wind changes."
The Rev. Jeff Miner represented just one of the churches that would be prohibited from conducting same-sex marriages should the constitutional amendment pass. He too urged the senators to consider the legacy created by an amendment to the state Constitution.
"You were elected to protect and defend our constitutional form of government. It is your most sacred duty. You may not like people like me; you may vigorously disagree with people like me; your religious convictions may be very different from mine. I respect that. But still you have a moral obligation to defend my right to equal protection under the law."
The debate on same-sex marriage in Indiana is guaranteed to last at least through November of 2008 as long as one side wants to use the Constitution to restrict the definition of marriage and another side considers that restriction an infringement upon civil liberty.
Legal challenges to same-sex marriage here and in other states will most certainly increase and ultimately shape the discourse and fate of SR 07. The oldest of the cases have not yet reached the Supreme Court, but are expected to do so soon.
Regardless of the rulings, holding the debate in the courts may only further entrench both sides.
Saving Indiana from itself?
The Indiana General Assembly currently has bills pending that dictate the placement of the American flag, and compulsory recitation of the pledge of allegiance and the U.S. Constitution. Plus, this year's lawmakers have introduced a bill to stop funding of the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University. Sponsors of the bill decry the use of public funding to promote pornography.
Traditionalists see definition of marriage legislation as another in a long line of fights against the erosion of public morality, public decency, and, ultimately, public safety.
Progressives believe as British Prime Minister Tony Blair does, "People are entitled to think that homosexuality is wrong, but they are not entitled to use the criminal law to force that view upon others."
In order for gay rights to finally be recognized and respected, traditionalists must come to view discrimination as a sin more harmful to society than homosexuality.
For the hundreds of men and women who left the hearing last week after the amendment passed by a vote of seven to four right down party lines, that shift in public opinion and policy seems unlikely to occur any time soon.
The die-hards on both sides of the argument were already making plans for their next rally at the Statehouse.
Sen. John Waterman (R) sponsor and supporter of amendment:
(317) 232-9984; email@example.com
Sen. Anita Bowser (D) opponent of amendment:
To find your state senator, visit www.in.gov/legislative/legislators
Senate: (317) 232-9400
Senate Toll-Free: (800) 382-9467
To contact the groups who support and oppose the amendment:
Eric Miller and Advance America www.advanceamerica.com
Indiana Civil Liberties Union www.iclu.org
Indiana Equality (888) 567-0750; firstname.lastname@example.org