Senate Committee Hears Marriage Discrimination Amendment

On Monday afternoon, the Indiana Senate’s Rules and Legislative Procedures committee held a hearing for HJR-3. Senator Kruse presented the amendment as passed by the House. By my count, 19 people testified in favor of HJR-3, while 18 testified against it in the time allotted.

A few themes became apparent among advocates of HJR-3:

First, a repeated emphasis on the importance of restoring the second sentence to the amendment, which read: “A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized.” Curt Smith of the Indiana Family Institute emphasized that this was to prevent judges from striking down the law

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, a point that echoed Rep. Eric Turner’s comments in the House. Smith quoted Notre Dame law professor and longtime amendment supporter Gerard Bradley:

“…[T]he most effective way to preserve marriage as the union of man and woman is by making sure that no same-sex relationship is treated in law as substantially equivalent to it.”

In other words, unless gay and lesbian relationships are consistently treated as second-class, we can’t prevent judges from declaring this amendment unconstitutional. Smith went so far as to say — claiming to speak for himself and a number of anti-LGBT groups — that he would rather see the amendment defeated than passed as a single sentence. Kellie Fiedorek of the Alliance Defending Freedom said that restoring the second sentence was “essential to preserving marriage in Indiana.”

Second, several proponents of HJR-3 downplayed the impact of the amendment — and especially the proposed second sentence — on everyday Hoosiers, repeatedly calling them “red herrings.” Smith led off with an anecdote about domestic partner benefits at the University of Kentucky, which was later debunked by Indiana University’s Jackie Simmons. James Bopp, Jr., the Citizens United lawyer and recently-deposed RNC committeeman, argued that the second sentence didn’t affect any individual rights. Micah Clark of the American Family Association of Indiana argued that concerns over civil rights were simply “scare tactics,” and that the “parade of horribles” had never arrived in North Carolina. Clark and others also claimed that far from being a drag on the economy as business groups have claimed, banning gay and lesbian couples from equal protection under the law is a hallmark of growing state economies. Ryan McCann of Indiana Family Action said that private business can still offer benefits to same-sex partners of employees. Elise Nieshalla introduced what she called an “independent” study, which Jeremy Hooper of Good As You pointed out was actually a widely-criticized issue brief put out by the National Organization for Marriage.

Third, advocates of the amendment made repeated references to the idea that marriage is not about adults, but about children. Fiedorek made the laughable claim that marriage is “uniquely… only relationship biologically capable of producing children,” an assertion also made by Glen Tebbe of the Indiana Catholic Conference. Smith chimed in, decrying efforts to redefine marriage as an “adult-centered relationship,” and Peter Sprigg of the Family Research Council added that marriage is a public institution because it “brings together men and women for the reproduction of the human race.” If marriage is only about organizing the relationships of adults, Sprigg said, there would be no justification for government involvement. Fiedorek worried that without the second sentence, we would further the idea that marriage was only “about the desires of adults and not the needs of children.” Allison Slater, speaking for the National Organization for Marriage, said that marriage was about establishing parental rights. Tea Party leader Doug Mainwaring, a gay man, said that marriage was only about children. Bishop Willie Duncan claimed that in the Bible, marriage is only about procreation.

Finally, there were repeated efforts by HJR-3 proponents to claim they were not motivated by hate. “We’re not against other people,” said Curt Smith. Pastor Mel Jackson claimed they were acting with “no malice.” Mainwaring said, “It’s not homophobic to opposed same-sex marriage.” John Crane began his testimony saying, “I’m truly sorry,” to the gay community and citing his gay friends and family members. These efforts were undercut by the comments of Pastor Wayne Harris, who declared, “Shame belongs to those who live and support this lifestyle.” And then there’s some of the comments made before this week’s testimony:

  • Peter Sprigg has argued that homosexuality should be criminalized; he also suggested that the US should “export homosexuals” from our country, before walking back those comments.
  • Curt Smith has equated homosexuality with bestiality.
  • Eric Miller claimed pedophilia is a sexual orientation on par with homosexuality.

There was also some effort to flip this around, claiming that a failure to pass this amendment would lead to discrimination. Desmond Dobbins, who describes herself as an ex-lesbian, said that she would be harassed and intimidated if HJR-3 does not pass. John Crane warned of a loss of First Amendment rights, because businesses like Just Cookies in Indianapolis have been criticized for refusing to serve gay customers. Pastor Doug Tate, Jr. said that he was “offended” that LGBT people and their allies have said that HJR-3 is only about hate or discrimination. Reverend Terry Webster said that if the amendment doesn’t pass, he’ll be forced to teach something different — that he doesn’t believe — or risk being jailed for “hate speech.” (I can only assume he was reading from the flyer sent out by Eric Miller’s Advance America.) Last month, the House chamber burst into laughter at Jim Bopp’s claim that opponents of HJR-3 were “intolerant.”

On the other side, opponents of HJR-3 stuck with a couple of basic themes:

First, the impacts of HJR-3 would be real, and would affect Hoosiers in their everyday lives. Marya Rose of Cummins spoke about her company’s experience in Minnesota, where a lengthy public campaign cost more than $17 million and featured numerous ads belittling and attacking LGBT people and affecting children on both sides. Stephen F. Fry of Eli Lilly asked the Senate to avoid taking the risky step of “throwing our state into a 10-month culture war.” Indiana University’s Jackie Simmons said HJR-3 would “severely restrict” benefits, citing an outside counsel who confirmed they would have to cut benefits or undergo an expensive and cumbersome work-around. Jennifer Fisher pointedly asked the legislators, “What is the personal impact to you?” She worried about the impact on her family if her partner, a law enforcement officer, was killed in the line of duty. Others made similar appeals, sharing their personal stories in their testimony. Phil Cooper of Bloomington said that he was testifying to keep his daughter from being “further denigrated as a second-class citizen,” and he was joined by PFLAG’s Annette Gross declaring that her son “is not a second-class citizen.”

Second, there was the connection between basic values and economic development. Lilly’s Fry said that the amendment would undermine Hoosier hospitality, violating our longstanding values. He recounted the times when his company has lost employees to competitors in other states precisely because of this issue — even to high-tax states like Massachusetts. Rose said that Cummins has faced similar issues, and that HJR-3 would cause “irreparable harm” to our state’s reputation. Jackie Simmons of IU said that the amendment would hurt efforts to attract and retain the best faculty, staff, and students. Mike Bosway, chair of the Indy Chamber of Commerce, talked about the importance of creating a place where employees and employers want to live. He said that economic development must go beyond simply being a low-cost state. Finally, IUPUI sociologist Jeramy Townsley talked about his research, which shows that economic measures of states with anti-gay laws and constitutional amendments lag behind states that do not adopt those measures.

The Senate’s Rules committee passed the amendment on to the house on an 8-4 party-line vote.

Yesterday, a federal judge struck down part of Kentucky’s similar marriage discrimination amendment, saying the state could not refuse to recognize legal marriages from other states.

Today, we learned that Senators Dennis Kruse and Mike Delph plan to introduce amendments to re-introduce the second sentence to HJR-3.