News and Tribune

July 1, 2013

HAYDEN: HJR6’s support comes from fear of political harm

By MAUREEN HAYDEN
CNHI Statehouse Bureau

INDIANAPOLIS —

Chances are good that someone you know and love is gay. 

That’s the reality that Indiana lawmakers may need to face in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court rulings on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage and the coming political battle in Indiana to enshrine a separate status for gay people into our state constitution. 

When Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority in the historic decision striking down the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, said the constitution’s guarantee of equality extended even to a “politically unpopular” group of Americans, he was writing about people you know and love. 

Twenty years ago, you may not have admitted that was so. Most people didn’t, according to a 1994 poll by CNN that found less than one-third of those surveyed reported having a close relationship with a gay or lesbian person. 

When CNN pollsters asked that question again six years ago, the number went up to 45 percent. When they asked it again a year ago, more than 60 percent of those surveyed said they had a close friend or family member who is gay. 

The number - which will only go up in years to come - is rising because of the many someones we know and love who’ve come out the closet. 

Indiana lawmakers know that. But whether they’ll admit it is something else. Just minutes after the DOMA ruling and a decision in a companion case out of California that upheld that state’s same-sex marriage law, Republican leaders in the Statehouse signaled their intentions to revive the same-sex marriage ban amendment in Indiana. 

In press releases, they said they interpreted the court’s decision as clearing the way for the General Assembly to move ahead on House Joint Resolution 6, known as HJR 6. The resolution would write Indiana’s current ban on same-sex marriage and civil unions into the constitution if approved by voters.  

The legislature already voted on it once, back in 2011. But the resolution has to get approved again to get on the November 2014 ballot.  

When HJR 6 was stalled earlier this year pending the high court’s decisions, I had Republican and Democrat legislators alike who voted for it last time tell me that someone they know and love is gay. I heard stories — told only on the promise they wouldn’t be reported — of beloved siblings, much-loved nephews, favorite cousins, and dear friends who were not only gay but who were living in loving relationships. 

Then why not oppose HJR6, I would ask. And the off-the-record answer, almost always, had to do with politics and their perception that a “no” vote would harm them in their next campaign. On the record, they’d duck the question and say: Hoosiers should have the right to vote on it.  Expect to hear that line again and again in the months to come. 

Someone I know and love is gay: My “baby” brother, who is one of the nine O’Connor siblings raised by my Catholic parents in a long-lived traditional marriage. 

That brother and his partner of 28 years have what I and the rest of my siblings believe is the happiest and healthiest of relationships of all of us. It’s certainly one of the longest and most stable in the family. 

Earlier this month, they officially tied the knot when marriage equality finally became law in the place where they live. For the life of me, I don’t understand how that commitment to each other does anything to undermine the institution of marriage. 

 

Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for the CNHI newspapers in Indiana. She can be reached at maureen.hayden@indianamediagroup.com