No vote on gay marriage ban Monday
Indiana is on the verge of becoming another battleground in the fight to add same-sex marriage bans to state constitutions. Twenty-five other states already have a constitutional ban.
A House committee heard testimony Monday, but did not vote on the proposed amendment and companion legislation. Indiana already bans gay marriage in state law. But supporters of the amendment say it would strengthen that ban against potential court challenges.
Supporters say it would protect marriage between a man and woman from judicial interpretation, but opponents say it discriminates against a group of people.
It was standing room only in the House Chamber Monday and the crowd spilled over into the hallway outside the chamber, as well, where Hoosiers on both sides of the debate listened attentively.
"The future of marriage belongs in the hands of Hoosiers. Not judges, not the media, not activists," said Rep. Eric Turner (R-Cicero).
Turner says Indiana has been talking about this long enough. He used economic development as a justification.
"In 2013 through October, eight of the top nine states with the highest rates of private sector job growth all had constitutional amendments defining marriage as between one man and one woman. The only states that have outpaced Indiana in the rate of private sector since the end of the recession - July 2009 - all have constitutional amendments defining marriage as between one man and one woman," Turner said.
Altering the constitution requires votes in two consecutive two-year sessions of the General Assembly and the support of voters. The proposal passed the Legislature in 2011 with little opposition.
But a coalition of businesses, universities and gay rights groups formed last summer in opposition to the amendment and has had some success in changing minds.
Indiana University and other large employers like it are concerned they could be left facing lawsuits if they are unable to offer benefits to same-sex partners of employees. There's also concern in the business community that the amendment, if passed, would discourage potential employers from setting up business in the state.
Cummins Inc., with 8,000 employees in Indiana, drew a clear line in the sand on the issue.
"We will be reluctant to continue to add jobs in Indiana if our state is a less-welcoming and inclusive place for all of our employees," said Cummins Vice President Marya Mernitz Rose.
IU started offering domestic partner benefits in 2002 and now is not sure it will be able to continue to offer that to its 40,000 employees statewide if the amendment is passed.
"Let's take the time to get the constitutional language right before we even put it to the voters. We are under no duress and no need to rush to the voters with an issue when we cannot even in this body today explain why it is necessary or what exactly it means or doesn't mean," said Jackie Simmons, IU vice president.
Evansville Police Det. Karen Kajmowicz says she swore an oath to serve and protect everyone, but after she was diagnosed with a stomach tumor, she realized she could do the same for her own family.
"Our world came to a screeching halt. Not only was I worried about leaving my best friend and partner to raise our son alone, but I wasn't even sure she would be allowed to raise that son," she said.
More than a few Hoosiers feel they are on the outside looking in when it comes to the debate on gay marriage in the state. Brittany and Myranda Warden are doing just that. While the debate rages on inside, they stand holding their two-year-old daughter, Lillyana.
"We need to create a culture of marriage," said Curt Smith.
The Wardens believe in that as well. They have been a couple for seven years. They just want to be able to marry each other.
"The proposed discriminatory amendment to the constitution would directly affect our livelihood. It would directly affect our ability to protect our family, our daughter, in any kind of legal way," said Myranda Warren.
"Let's take the time to get the constitutional language right before we put it to the voters," said Simmons.
"As Christians, we've got to protect our values. That is what I believe," said Carolyn Rhoten.
Rhoten describes herself as a "Christian grandma from Lebanon." She stands out in the sea of opponents against the proposed amendment, but she's fine with that.
"I am here because of the attack on the family and Christian values. I believe marriage is between one man and one woman and I think, as a Christian, I have been quiet for too long," she said.
"Our daughter, what is that saying to her? When she grows up and understands, 'Why is my family less than anyone else's?' This just adds to that," Brittany Warden said.
"If we are going to have a constitutional amendment, then we ought to let all decide, not just certain groups," Rhoten said.
The surprising thing is, everyone at the Statehouse Monday said they were there to protect the family. But no one can agree on what that is.