Hoosiers hold back marriage amendment

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HOOSIER HOSPITALITY: Opponents of a measure to amend the Indiana Constitution to ban gay marriage listen to debate on the measure outside a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee at the Statehouse in Indianapolis on Jan. 13. -PHOTO: AP/Michael Conroy

Conservatives in Indiana seem to be shooting bricks in what could be the last drive in America to enact an anti-gay marriage amendment. But civil rights advocates say they must keep up the full court press until the legislative session ends.

“They clearly can’t go all the way in this game, but we’ve got to have a strong defense,” said Greg Means, as he rallied against the anti-gay amendment at the Indiana Statehouse on Jan. 14. Red is the color for the opposition effort.

That day, Republican Gov. Mike Pence, in his second State of the State speech, urged lawmakers to act this year on the proposed amendment. “Let’s have a debate worthy of our people with civility and respect,” he said in a joint session of the House and Senate. 

Indiana lawmakers first approved a bill for a constitutional amendment to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman in 2011, but the amendment process requires two consecutive biennial votes of the General Assembly followed by approval from the voters.

If lawmakers pass the amendment bill, now called HJR-3, voters would decide the ballot initiative in the general election in November. If lawmakers don’t act this session, they’ll have to start over and work toward a ballot initiative in 2016 or scrap the campaign — though Indiana still has a statute against marriage equality.

The day before Pence’s address, the House Judiciary Committee heard nearly four hours of testimony on HJR-3 and then recessed without a vote.

“It was such an amazing sight to look around the House chamber and Statehouse halls and see so many Hoosiers decked out in red to show their opposition to this divisive amendment that would harm our friends, neighbors and families,” said Megan Robertson, campaign manager for the Freedom Indiana coalition.

Over the past year, FI has built a campaign that includes national and state civil rights groups, as well as corporations and chambers of commerce and universities. Lawmakers have received some 15,000 letters from FI supporters and thousands have called the Statehouse.

Meanwhile, opinion polls show 64 percent of Indianans oppose the amendment.

IU general counsel Jackie Simmons was among those who testified against the measure, saying it would hurt the university’s “ability to find employees and students” and would not “help advance the culture of diversity” in the state.

Rather, the amendment would divide the state.

Annette Gross, a statewide coordinator for Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, said the amendment would “destroy Hoosier families” and send a message that Indiana is “an unwelcoming place to live, study and work.”

The PFLAG mom said, “My son, Matthew, is gay. He is the most important person in my life, and I cannot bear the thought that this amendment will make his life more difficult.”

Same-sex couples can marry in 16 states and the District of Columbia. Later this year, in June, gay couples will be able to marry in Illinois. Briefly, gay couples have married in Utah and Pennsylvania.

Many of the anti-gay bans were enacted in the early- to mid-2000s by overwhelming majorities — 11 states approved constitutional amendments in 2004 and eight states, including Wisconsin, approved them in 2006. North Carolina voters approved the last anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment in 2012.

Since then, a Supreme Court ruling allowed for the repeal of a similar amendment in California — Proposition 8 — and another ruling from the high court requires the federal government to recognize gay marriages.