Gays in Indiana May See Rights Put to A Vote

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday February 16, 2011

Indiana state lawmakers have approved a resolution to put rights for gay and lesbian families up to a popular vote. If the measure proceeds to the ballot box and voters approve it, the state's constitution will enshrine language denying marriage or any "substantially similar" legal status, such as civil unions, to gays and lesbians.

Indiana already has a law denying marriage to same-sex couples, but members of the state's House of Representatives argued that unless the state's bedrock law was changed, a court might strike that law down on the grounds that it conflicts with the constitution.

The State House voted to pass the measure 70-26 on Feb. 15, reported Indiana newspaper the Southbend Tribune that same day.

Republican State Rep. Eric Turner, the measure's sponsor, pointed to the 30 states that have put the issue to a vote. In all cases, the measures passes--through in Arizona, voters rejected the first attempt out of fear that heterosexual couples living together outside of marriage would be affected. Only when the Arizona measure was re-cast so that it specifically impacted only the rights of gays and lesbians did voters there approve it.

A 2008 California ballot measure revoking the then-existing right of gays and lesbians to marry squeaked through after a harrowing and bitterly divisive campaign. That ballot measure, Proposition 8, was found by a federal court to violate the United States Constitution. The case is currently under appeal.

Co-sponsor Rep. Wes Culver, also a Republican, told the press that the measure was meant to give the people a voice in considering whether gay and lesbian families should share in marriage parity. "A lot of people think we've made the decision as legislators, but we haven't," Culver said. "We've made the decision to put it back in the people's lap for them to decide--if it passes the next legislature."

Culver added that the measure would provide legal discrimination against gays and lesbians by religious groups in terms of employment and services. Religiously run adoption agencies, for instance, could not be compelled to place needy children in same-sex households under the provisions of the measure.

"I don't see it as taking away rights from somebody," Culver told the press. "I see it as working to protect the rights of those that believe in this institution."

The State Senate will consider the measure next. If the resolution clears both chambers this year and again following the 2012 elections, it will go before voters in the 2014 mid-term elections.

The measure met with some resistance from House Democrats. "I think our constitution is a place to enumerate rights, not take them away," said State Rep. Ryan Dvorak, who slammed the measure for targeting civil unions as well as marriage equality.

"Even among people that are really supportive of defining marriage in the constitution as between one man and one woman, there is widespread support for something like civil unions for same-sex couples," Dvorak said. "I think everybody knows that same-sex couples live in every community in the state." The article said that House Democrats attempted to change the measure's wording to preserve the possibility of civil unions for gay and lesbian families, but failed to do so.

Only one Republican voted against the measure, noted a Feb. 16 head| article. Eleven Democrats also voted to advance the resolution.

The State Senate has approved similar measures four times, noted the IndyStar article. Most recently, the measure cleared the Senate in 2010, but was defeated in the House, which at the time was dominated by Democrats. At this point, however, Republicans control both chambers.

The Associated Press reported on Feb. 16 that another Democrat, State Rep. Matt Pierce, argued that the state constitution should be an instrument that defends the rights of minorities, rather than being altered by majority vote so as to curtail their rights. "What side of history will we stand on?" Pierce wondered aloud, noting that society has shifted not only in its views of gays and lesbians and their families, but of marriage in general.

Greg Zoeller, the state's attorney general, vowed to defend the measure from legal challenge, and anti-gay group the American Family Association praised Indiana lawmakers, with Bryan Fischer calling the vote "a huge victory for the pro-family movement," reported But business leaders were concerned that such a measure would blacken Indiana's reputation and cause workers and innovators to leave or take the state off their list of possible places to live, work, and establish businesses.

"Our view is that Indianapolis has got to position itself to compete globally for human capital, and that we have got to be the kind of place that is open and welcome and tolerant," said the president of the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, Roland Dorson.

Indiana resident Paul Fisher spoke to the personal impact the measure might have on his own family. Fisher and his husband married in California before voters there rescinded marriage parity rights. Their extended family also traveled to California to attend the ceremony. If Fisher and his husband lived in California, their marriage--like that of 18,000 other gay and lesbian families who married there during the window of marriage equality--would still be valid. In Indiana, however, marriages that would be legal elsewhere are not recognized--and never will be, if the state constitution is revised.

Lawmakers promoting the measure denied that it might harm gay and lesbian families, saying that it would "protect" marriage and families--heterosexual ones, at least. "Nothing, nothing in this legislation in this resolution interferes with people [seeking] to live with whomever they choose, to love whomever they choose," Republican State Rep. Ralph Foley asserted.

"But loving friendship is a different relationship than the relationship between man and wife, and we should represent that in the law."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.