Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Writing Discrimination into the Indiana State Constitution

Today's blog post comes to us from Annette Gross, the PFLAG State Coordinator out of Indiana. Thanks to her for this informative piece!

On Monday, February 7, 2011, I, along with two other PFLAG moms, heard the testimony for and against SJR-6 – the “Marriage Discrimination Amendment” – in the Indiana state House of Representatives Judiciary Committee. The proposed amendment says: “Marriage. Provides that only marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Indiana. Provides that a legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized.”

SJR-6 passed the house judiciary committee by a vote of 8-4. Even if it passes this year, it would have to be approved by another separately elected legislature and then voted on by the citizens of Indiana before it could be put into the Constitution. Hopefully this won’t occur.

Before the testimony began, Rep. Eric Turner, co-author of the bill, explained the history of the bill. He said that 38 states have statutes against same-sex marriage. Passage on the bill in Indiana began in 2007 and 2008 and failed. Now they are starting all over again.

The testimony began with some common themes. Procreation as the basis for marriage was espoused by Austin Nimocks, Sr. Legal Counsel of the Alliance Defense Fund and Curt Smith of the American Family Institute. And Jim Bopp, Jr., a legal expert from Terre Haute, said that marriage is between one man and one woman. He assured us that the amendment would not affect Indiana domestic violence laws, health care benefits, contractual care, or adoption.

Glenn Tebbe from the Indiana Catholic Conference said he supports the marriage of one man and one woman, and he shares this view with all of humanity. He added that marriage has weakened and eroded and that we need to strengthen the definition of marriage. However, he did also say that he believes in the dignity of homosexuals, that they should be respected, and that he condemns discrimination of them. I am constantly amazed by the hypocrisy of people who feel the need to put down a group of people while professing respect for them at the same time.

Micah Clark from the American Family Association said that people have the right to live free, but 2% of the population doesn’t have the right to change marriage. He then brought up Sunday’s Super Bowl and why marriage should only be between one man and one woman. “If any two teams could place it would lose the significance. It wouldn’t be so super.” He added, “By the same token, if we change the definition of marriage, it loses its unique significance. If any two people can marry, it doesn’t mean much.” Many of us scratched our heads at the Super Bowl analogy and found his words discriminatory and hateful.

We then heard testimony from those opposing the Amendment. Jessica Wilch, president of Indiana Equality, is concerned about this force that wants to undermine the rights of LGBT people here in Indiana, and demanded equal presence in society.

Dr. Cynthia Conley, Assistant Professor in the School of Social Work at Ball State University, talked of the concerns of LGBT parents. She said she legally married her same-sex partner in Canada because she couldn’t get married here. She has an 11-year-old daughter who excels academically and deserves to have parents who aren’t second-class citizens. She said that this amendment won’t stop LGBT people from having children and relationships, and we should seek state constitutions that help them, not harm them.

William Buffie M.D., a doctor of Internal Medicine, said that the legislators should not vote based on opinions or innuendoes. He noted that if the resolution passes, there will be proven negative mental health outcomes, as the exclusion of same-sex marriage contributes to health disparities in the United States. He said that same-sex exclusion detracts from healthcare and also talked about the “brain-drain” from Indiana; he personally knows of two talented physicians who left Indiana to move to Massachusetts so they could get married.

Dr. Buffie said that the opposition uses vanity journals, not peer-reviewed or evidence-based science, and that they give evidence from bogus organizations. He discussed Minority Stress – it’s what happens when one internalizes prejudice. He said that SJR6 is an extension of institutionalized stigma, and that all are impacted by it, not just LGBT people.

The final speaker was a private citizen, Patrick Roth, to whom the chairman of the committee begrudgingly gave permission to speak.

Patrick spoke about his husband, their 13-year-old daughter, the two homes they own in Indianapolis, the volunteer work at his daughter’s school and in the community, pays taxes, votes, and that he has a very stable family. He said he and his husband had to go to Canada to get married because Indiana doesn’t permit same-sex marriage. He said that adding this kind of discrimination to the Constitution of Indiana won’t strengthen anyone’s marriage. He concluded by saying that if the amendment is passed, he would hate to tell his daughter that some families are better than hers. Patrick then said, “If you really want to Amend the Constitution of the great State of Indiana, why not this? Scrap this proposed Amendment entirely, and put it its place an Amendment that states SIMPLY AND CLEARLY: “The Legislature shall pass NO laws, nor make any Amendments, that do HARM to ANY group in Society, while doing NO good for any other.”

Patrick received applause from the opponents to SJR6 and I gave him a big hug when he came back to his seat. TV and newspaper reporters ran to get his story, and he was featured on the 6:00 news that night.

At the end of the public testimony, Rep. Turner spoke and assured the assembly that he didn’t write this bill to discriminate against the LGBT community. We all know that in fact he did. It’s clear that he has no respect for LGBT people and their families. If he did, we wouldn’t have been at a hearing.

What bothers me most is that “the people” should have the right to decide who can and who cannot get married. Why should one group of people decide what rights another group should have? I would think that as a country we would have evolved beyond that.

What now? We have a lot of work to do. As we say in PFLAG, we have a lot of hearts and minds to change.

1 comment:

Vivian Benge, Pres. INTRAA said...

Great job Annette! Very concise report on the hypocracy and arrogance displayed by the Republicans on the Judiciary Committee of the Indiana House of Representatives. They came to power in the last election promising to focus on fiscal responsibility and have waisted precious time with their usual fear mongering - a red herrings - and this sop to their reacionary and fearful electoral base. Same ol' same ol'.

A wonder to me is how these people get so ignorant and why they work so hard to stay that way, as if history and God won't judge this as a pretty sad day and not representative humanity's best moments.

Vivian Benge, Pres. INTRAA