News and Tribune

November 23, 2013

Local officials weigh in — or don’t — about gay marriage amendment

Area business agencies say they haven't formed an opinion

NEWS AND TRIBUNE
newsroom@newsandtribune.com

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — A fight over an amendment banning gay marriage is heating up in the Indiana Statehouse.

Already, several government boards and commerce agencies have spoken out against Indiana House Joint Resolution 6 — which would allow for a constitutional amendment to be placed on the ballot that defines marriage as being between one man and one woman — saying that it will hurt Indiana’s potential and attractiveness to employees and employers.

The New Albany City Council, Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce and Indianapolis City-County Council have come out publicly against the amendment. Major Indiana employers like Eli Lily Co. and Cummins, as well as Indiana University, Ball State University and Butler University have also voiced opposition to the bill.

If the resolution passes through the general assembly, it would be placed on the 2014 ballot for Hoosier voters to decide whether or not the state’s constitution will define marriage as only between a man and a woman.

But locally, few organizations have yet to take official action on the proposed amendment.



NEW ALBANY OPPOSITION

After the New Albany Human Rights Commission wrote an open letter to the body seeking its support, the New Albany City Council approved on Thursday a nonbinding resolution that opposes HJR-6.

“For the first time, support for gay marriage is now higher than that who oppose it,” the commission wrote in the letter. “Indiana will be doing a disservice to its residents by passing this legislation. If passed, HJR-6 will prevent any legislation from being passed in the future including legal protections for same sex couples.

“We understand that this would be a nonbinding resolution, but we are asking that you stand beside us on the right side of history, and tell Indianapolis not to pass this legislation and allow our great state the ability to move forward with the rest of the country.”

Similar feelings were echoed by council members and residents during Thursday’s meeting, as the resolution was approved 7-1-1.

“Honestly it’s a politicized question, that’s what it boils down to,” Democratic Councilman Dan Coffey, who supported the city resolution, said of the proposed state amendment.



OTHER POLITICAL THOUGHTS

Jeffersonville City Councilman Matt Owen said he has been considering introducing a resolution opposing House Joint Resolution 6, but he doesn’t know how the other council members feel about it.

While the resolution is being pushed for by Republican state legislators — with a notable exception being Ed Clere, New Albany, who previously voted against the amendment — Owen, a Republican, said he is against it.

“I think this amendment would be a step backward for Indiana,” he said.

He said state law already defines marriage and the proposed amendment would go further, banning rights conferred through civil unions.

But fellow Jeffersonville City Councilman and Democrat Nathan Samuel said he doesn’t believe the resolution is something that the city should be supporting or opposing.

“Frankly, that’s a state issue,” Samuel said. “As a body, I don’t think that’s our role,” he said of the council. “It’s a hot-button issue [and] honestly, I don’t have a feel for how my constituents would want me to vote,” he added.

With it being a statewide issue, Samuel said that voters in the area, if they have strong opinions on the matter, could contact their state representatives or senators to voice their preferences.

Owen and Samuel also differed on whether or not they believe the resolution would have an impact on the attractiveness of the region to businesses.

“I think its a definite turn-off for employers looking to locate and build on industry in the state,” Owen said. “We have 6,000 acres of River Ridge to develop and we want to attract those big employers.”

But Samuel said the region is set up well to continue to attract employers regardless of the state’s decision.

“I don’t think that affects us at all,” he said. “I think we’re very fortunate with the assets that we have. I have not heard any business leader say that’s a deterrent in Jeffersonville.”

David L. Clifton, professor at Ivy Tech Sellersburg branch’s school of business, said he’s not sure that’s an issue that businesses look at when they are looking to locate somewhere.

“I think they are more interested in their profit than they are in issues of this nature,” he said.

He said he believes the bigger driver for companies are property taxes, tax incentives and the availability of a strong work force.



UNIVERSITY AND BUSINESS SUPPORT

Other local universities have offered an opinion on the matter.

Indiana University Southeast has aligned itself with the main campus in Bloomington taking a stance against the proposed resolution.

“As a regional campus, IU Southeast operates under the same values and with the same principles as Indiana University,” said Interim Chancellor Barbara Bichelmeyer in a written statement. “Our campus strives to be welcoming for all students, faculty and staff, and we believe that a campus is the ideal place to encourage individual rights and freedom of choice. We are proud to be part of Indiana University.”

Notably absent from weighing in on the matter were several of Southern Indiana’s major employers.

The News and Tribune requested comments from Clark Memorial Hospital and American Commercial Lines Inc. on their stance on the resolution, but neither of the entities responded as of press time.

One Southern Indiana President Wendy Dant Chesser could not be reached for an interview, but offered a response to whether or not her organization — the chamber of commerce for Clark and Floyd counties — would make a declaration on the proposed amendment.

“While One Southern Indiana, through our employee and membership policies, provides for an inclusive work environment, debates on the HJR-6 amendment have not yielded consensus,” Dant Chesser wrote in an email. “In fairness to our members and investors, we have not taken an advocacy position on this proposal.”

River Ridge Commerce Center also responded, but did not take a side in the matter.

“That is something our board has not even entertained,” said River Ridge Executive Director Jerry Acy. “Typically, we don’t take a position on political matters.”



RELIGIOUS LEADERS OFFER OPINION

A group of about 300 Indiana religious leaders have also weighed in on the proposed constitutional amendment, urging legislators to vote against it.

The Interfaith Coalition on Nondiscrimination posted the letter on its website said while people of different faith traditions may disagree on marriage-related issues, each of the signers of the letter respects the right of religious groups to decide whether or not to sanction marriage or other unions of same-gender couples.

“The proposed ‘marriage amendment’ would strip civil rights from committed same-gender couples,” according to the letter. “As many of us affirmed when supporting legislation to prevent sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace, public accommodations and housing; each of our faith traditions emphasizes justice. For our society to be just, the civil rights of all people, even those with whom we may disagree, must be protected. We should not be writing discrimination into our state Constitution. This fact alone merits rejection of the marriage amendment.”