News and Tribune

November 21, 2013

New Albany council opposes state gay marriage ban amendment

Resolution approved 7-1-1 to take a stand on controversial legislation


NEW ALBANY — On a rainy Independence Day in 2009, Brad Bell stood in his driveway in front of family and friends and ceremoniously married his partner, Jeremy.

“We wed as a family — in this city — in a state that does not recognize our relationship,” Bell told the New Albany City Council.

Like that marriage, the council’s action on Thursday may not be acknowledged by the state, but it approved a resolution that opposes a bill that would place Indiana’s gay marriage ban in the state constitution.

House Joint Resolution 6, if approved by the General Assembly, would allow Hoosier voters to decide as early as next year whether marriage should be defined solely as a union between one man and one woman.

The city council obviously can’t mandate a state policy, but New Albany joined other Indiana organizations, businesses and universities in casting an opinion of opposition against HJR-6.

“It really is a step backward,” said Councilman Greg Phipps, the sponsor of the New Albany resolution.

It was approved 7-1-1 with Councilman Scott Blair voting against the measure and Councilwoman Diane McCartin-Benedetti choosing to abstain.

Blair didn’t comment during the council discussion, though he has stated in the past that he doesn’t approve of the body casting votes on legislation it can’t control.

Benedetti said she struggled with the resolution all week.

“In some ways I think it should go to a referendum for voters,” she said.

But Phipps, other council members and residents who attended the meeting countered that marriage is a basic right and shouldn’t be a matter of opinion.

“Certain things aren’t up for a vote in our country,” Phipps said. “Civil Rights are not.”

Councilman Kevin Zurschmiede, the lone Republican on the council, said many of his constituents would like to vote on the marriage amendment, but he supported Phipps’ resolution.

Since it’s a constitutional amendment, HJR-6 requires two Statehouse votes before it can be placed on the ballot for voters.

Phipps said that if ending slavery had been left up to a general vote, some southern states would not have approved it.

Three people addressed the council during the public speaking portion of the meeting, and each opposed HJR-6.

Bell is a member of the New Albany Human Rights Commission, which requested the council take up the resolution against the proposed state measure.

It’s “horrible legislation and Indianapolis should be ashamed of themselves for taking rights away from its citizens.”

Councilman Dan Coffey touched on the religious and political aspects of the debate. He said he believes in Jesus Christ, but added HJR-6 technically violates many mainstream religious views because it doesn’t forbid a man and a woman from marrying if either had been previously divorced.

He said legislating religious belief is a cumbersome task because it essentially involves deciding which “sins” are worse than others.

Coffey added the state measure won’t just affect same-sex couples, as it could hamper heterosexual couples from obtaining joint health insurance or sharing power of attorney if they aren’t married.

“I just can’t even understand somebody contemplating something like this,” Coffey said.

While the GOP controls the Statehouse, Phipps said even Republicans are shying away from HJR-6 the way its currently written, though some are being attacked for it.

For example, state Rep. Ed Clere, R-New Albany, was the only House Republican to vote against the same-sex marriage ban in 2011, and has continued to oppose the measure.

A half-page advertisement criticizing Clere for not “standing up for the national platform of his own party” was placed in the Wednesday edition of the News and Tribune. The advertisement was paid for by the Indiana Tea Party, Indiana Family Action and AFA of Indiana.

While the council’s resolution won’t force the state to vote down the amendment, Phipps said that in a century residents will look back and judge present leaders on the stands they took or didn’t take on issues of the time.

“That’s something we need to consider — the legacy that we leave our city,” he said.