|Rainbow flag at the Statehouse in Indianapolis|
What? There are gay people in Utah? Oklahoma? Indiana?
Like many, I’m watching the state-by-state battles for and against the right of same-sex couples to marry.
There are three ways rights are granted, or taken away. By referendum – a vote of all the people, – by the courts, or by the legislature. Whenever the people of any given state try one way, opponents cry foul and insist it should be another way. LGBT people have looked to the constitution as the most reliable source of authority for equality and federal or Supreme Court judges bear that out. Only they can overturn majority rule when the majority is less concerned with fundamental rights than with an ideological victory. By the same token, ideologues with the majority behind them argue that there is no better way to determine right or wrong than by majority rule, and insist the decision should be made by popular vote. Never mind that majorities sometimes fail to give minorities their due. Alternatively, when a group has a majority in the legislature, these same forces make the argument that the legislature speaks for the people as duly elected representatives, and they should make the decision.
So far, six states (CA, CT, IA, MA, NJ, NM) have granted same-sex couples the right to marry in the courts; eight states (DE, HI, IL, MN, NH, NY, RI, VT) have done it in their legislatures; and three (ME, MD, WA) have done it through popular vote. DC got same-sex marriage rights when the major signed a bill by the City Council in 2009.
Because support for same-sex marriage hovers at around the 50-50 mark, a decision is not always a decision. A federal court judge found Utah’s ban unconstitutional, for example, but a couple weeks later (on January 6 of this year) the U.S. Supreme Court put a stay on the judge’s decision because the state appealed.
And sometimes, things go the other way. Or, as in the case of Maine, first one way and then the other. In Maine, the legislature legalized same-sex marriage in 2009, but it was repealed within the year by popular vote. Three years later, in 2012, voters showed a change of heart and same-sex marriage was passed by popular vote. A history of the strategies used in each state is available here.
Most surprising is the speed with which support for same-sex marriage is showing up even in the red states. Utah is an example. So is Oklahoma. In Florida, Governor Charlie Crist seems to have his finger in the wind. Once a proud anti-gay rights Republican, he first switched and became an independent. Now he’s gone all the way and is a declared democrat and unequivocally behind same-sex marriage rights.
Indiana, in contrast, seems to be moving backwards. A panel of thirteen lawmakers on the House Elections and Apportionment Committee just voted 9-3 along party lines to send an amendment, known as House Joint Resolution 3 (HJR-3) to the full House for a General Assembly vote that would ban same-sex rights - just in case some federal court judge should decide in the future that their current law already banning gay rights is unconstitutional. The ban was approved in 2011 but must by law be approved a second time. It will likely make the ballot in November.
Now what the hell is the Elections and Apportionment Committee doing proposing anti-gay legislation in the first place? Why isn't that a job for the Judicial Committee? Here you see American democracy at work. It was in the Judicial Committee originally, but they were not inclined to push it. (You have to wonder why - too much evidence that anti-gay laws don't pass muster in the courts?) So the GOP leader of the House took it away from them and turned it over to Elections and Apportionment precisely because he knew they had the Republican anti-gay votes. Once in the legislature it is likely to pass and come up for a vote in November in the general election.
Not only is the Indiana Legislature being crafty; they are being particularly mean about it. Polls show support for same-sex marriage in 2013 at around 55% nationally, up from around 51-53% the year before, and it’s clear that many more people would vote for civil unions than for same-sex marriage rights. Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon and Wisconsin have civil union rights but not yet marriage rights. Yet Indiana seems to be lining up with the red states of the South, and following North Carolina’s lead. North Carolina approved a ban on same-sex marriage in 2012 by 20 percentage points and then went on to ban civil unions, as well. Ironically, though, this move could backfire. The decision to go all the way and prohibit same-sex civil unions may just end up being perceived as too hostile to gays and turn Indiana voters off. It's possible the GOP designers of HJR-3 are shooting themselves in the foot by wanting it all.
I decided to take a closer look at the meanies, these nine Indiana legislators, to try and learn something more about where they are coming from. What I found came as no surprise. If you read their official web sites you see a picture of ordinary Americans, people with families and jobs and a good work ethic, as well as a desire to go into politics to make the world a better place. But among these would-be banners (and this is not a contradiction to what I just said) there is Woody Burton, winner of the “legislator of the year award” given by the Indiana Bankers. Something else he’s known for is his sponsorship of the “In God We Trust” license plate.
Kathy Richardson’s accomplishments include amending House Bill 1283, which deals with libraries, to declare the Grouseland Rifle the official state rifle.
Then there’s Milo Smith. The Bilerico Project, an online group of LGBT activists, pointed out in 2007 that Smith, despite having a gay son, voted for an earlier incarnation of this homophobic bill. Despite claims that he would not deny gay people the right to civil unions, he is now coming down once again on the side of the homophobes behind HJR-3.
Then there is Ed Soliday, who one year ago introduced legislation to require doctors to perform an ultrasound before prescribing an abortion-inducing drug.
This is “church country,” and Jeff Thompson advertises his membership in the Northview Christian Church among his affiliations, and Richard Hamm is a trustee in Calvary Baptist Church. Nothing wrong with that, of course, except for the fact that the discovery of church affiliation in America more often than not signals simultaneously the discovery of a social force to define gays and lesbians as sinners first, and citizens with equal rights second. Timothy Wesco, the home-schooled son of a preacher has posted a website in which he states, “I recognize that ultimately I will be accountable to my Savior, the Sovereign, Omnipresent and Omniscient God of the Universe.” When a politician tells you his ultimate guide is his religion and not his state and federal constitutions, it sends a shiver down the backs of gay and lesbian people.
It’s telling that the cultural battle between those on the one hand who would impose their religious guidelines on the rest of us, and those of us, on the other, who would place the value of equality for all above all else, is often fought indirectly. Opposition in Indiana to HJR-3 is coming from places like Indiana University, Eli Lilly and Co. and Cummins Inc. Representatives from these organizations all testified that they believe HJR-3 would have negative repercussions on their ability to attract and keep a diverse work force. Aha! The financial argument. The way to find common ground with religious people who are nonetheless practical. One can only hope it has sufficient persuasive power.
Working with the religious and otherwise conservative legislators are the usual suspects. There is Curt Smith, president of the Indiana Family Institute, and Ken Klukowski, a law professor at Liberty University, among others. Liberty University, in case you can’t place it, is Jerry Falwell’s baby. Also Kellie Fiedorek of the Alliance Defending Freedom, Ken Klukowski of the Family Research Council, Glen Tebbe of the Indiana Catholic Conference, Micah Clark of the American Family Association of Indiana, Ron Johnson of the Indiana Family Institute’s Indiana Pastors Alliance, and Eric Miller of Advance America. All those organizations with the patriotic names fronting for religious-based homophobia.
The Indiana Family Institute is making the same argument the Catholic hierarchy likes to make – what the gays are up to is limiting their religious freedom to discriminate. According to them,
Efforts by organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union and the Freedom From Religion Foundation are underway to restrict our right to hold to our religious beliefs at work, on a school or university campus, at church, or even when you turn out to vote your values. If successful, these attacks on our religious liberty could greatly restrict our ability to respond to the Great Commission and share the Gospel. At Indiana Family Institute (IFI), we are committed to protecting the right of every Hoosier to freely live their faith.
Somehow passing a law preventing people from marrying the person of their choice gets twisted into an attack on the freedom of other people to express their religion. What a mindset it must take to swallow that line of reasoning. Yet, the illogic must work. Why else would the Catholics and fundamentalist protestants be using it?
The Family Research Council and the Alliance Defending Freedom are both organizations set up under the hand of James Dobson. You remember him – the founder of Focus on the Family. Dobson, you may remember, argued that the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School was the result of America’s turning its back on God. The Southern Poverty Law Center has listed the American Family Association as a “domestic hate group.”
Advance America is a conservative legislative watchdog association. To see what they are about, watch this speech by Indiana’s conservative governor, Mike Pence, where he quotes a Heritage Foundation claim that “families” reduce childhood poverty by 85%. No mention is made of the fact that gays and lesbians are battling for the right to become families and to have their children grow up in legally recognized families. Just as the argument that religious freedom is under threat by the formation of gay and lesbian families turns truth exactly upside down, so does the argument that gay and lesbian families are in competition with mommy and daddy families and therefore a threat to them.
But such is the level of discourse in America where the struggle for same-sex civil rights marches on.
One step, one state, at a time.
Hope you’re settled in for the long run.
As Betty Davis (as Margo Channing) said in All About Eve, “fasten your seatbelts; it’s gonna be a bumpy night.”
But bumpy is the bad news. For the good news, consider the direction we’re moving in.