Aug 312013
Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Gay rights groups and allies, along with the backing of two of Indiana’s largest employers, are taking a preemptive strike against the constitutional amendment calling for a same-sex marriage ban expected in the 2014 Indiana Legislature.

Indiana-based Eli Lilly and Cummins Engine took bold steps for equality on August  21, with financial backing of a new coalition called Freedom Indiana.

The Indiana legislature has dissed same-sex marriage for as long as I can remember.  Indiana has a law on the books prohibiting same-sex marriage, but the legislature took it further in 2011 when both the state’s House and Senate voted on a constitutional amendment to exclude same-sex couples from marriage.

Now HJR-6‘s identical twin is rearing its ugly head again as anti-marriage legislators push to approve it in the 2014 legislative session next spring.  If it passes again in the legislature, Indiana citizens will vote on the anti-freedom amendment in the November 2014 election.

Both Lilly and Cummins have a history of opposing a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.  An article from the Columbus, Indiana “Republic,” (Columbus is the hometown of Cummins Engine) quoted a Cummins executive speaking before the legislature in a March 2011 article:

“This resolution sends a powerful message that Indiana is not a place that welcomes people of all backgrounds, and it jeopardizes our ability to be competitive in global markets,” Jill Cook, vice president of human resources … ”

As Mr. Dylan said so long ago, “The times, they are a changin’.”

Indiana Freedom to Marry reports that a December 2012 poll by the Bowen Center for Public Affairs at Ball State University showed that 54% of Indiana residents opposed changing the state constitution to bar same-sex couples from marrying, while 38% supported the change.

Gay marriage is now legal in thirteen states including California, Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington, as well as the District of Columbia.  (However, a number of states still have constitutional amendments banning same sex marriages).

Earlier this summer, the Supreme Court weighed in on gay marriage in two rulings:

  • Stating that marriage same-sex couples were entitled to federal benefits, and
  • By not deciding on the California case, allowing same-sex marriages there.

Good for Recruiting and Retaining Employees.

Why would large employers such as Lilly and Cummins jump on this bandwagon in red state Indiana?

While Indiana isn’t truly in the Rust Belt, the state struggles with the loss of major manufacturers. The state needs jobs to retain young people.  Business groups see the larger picture — that recruiting and retaining the younger generation work force must include recognition and respect for those in same-sex unions.  The polls, SCOTUS and what’s happening across the country indicate that the proverbial handwriting may be on the wall.

The conservative Indianapolis Star spoke about the potential fracas in 2014 if an amendment comes to a public vote:

“The proposed constitutional amendment, if it passes the General Assembly, would be sent to voters in November 2014. If they insist on following that path, state lawmakers will set up a highly charged, likely painful fight over not only same-sex marriage but, in the message it sends, social inclusion of gays and lesbians in Indiana as well.

“That sort of divisive battle is the last thing we need in a state that must focus as much energy and cooperation as it can muster on improving our educational system and rebuilding our economy.”

I’ve lived in this state all but six of my fifty-plus years. I want to live in a place where my gay friends are free to experience life as I have, as a married person.

When my husband and I joined in a public celebration in a little country church nearly three decades ago, family and friends stood with us, celebrating and giving us gifts. Because I am married, I get health insurance through my husband’s job allowing me to own my own business.  When my mother’s obituary ran in the newspaper, no one batted an eye that my husband’s name was also listed. Because he is my husband, society considered him a part of my mother’s family.  While the children of a gay couple may get insurance, in many cases the partner does not.

Gay couples in Indiana do not enjoy public validation of their love, or the legal benefits of their union.  This needs to change.  Again, as Mr. Dylan said, “Your old road is rapidly agin’.”

Published August 27, 2013 at The Broad Side.

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