Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Indiana At The Gay Marriage Tipping Point

Back in April I wrote about the historic national sea change in favor of gay marriage and gay rights in general. But I hadn’t anticipated that by year’s end Hoosiers would be in a dramatic standoff on gay marriage and activists would be working quietly right here in Noblesville.

The buzz is about HJR-6, a proposed amendment to the Indiana Constitution that would ban gay marriage and civil unions. If state legislators pass the law, it goes to the voters next year as a referendum.

Over Thanksgiving I found myself listing Indiana’s amazing turn of events for a Hoosier-born gay family member who married her partner during the original glimmer of time it was legal in California.
Luke Kenley
An initial pebble in the water came a year ago when Noblesville’s own influential State Senator, Republican Luke Kenley announced he opposed the amendment. He told a CNHI Statehouse Bureau reporter last December, “I really value the institution of heterosexual marriage, but I do not think that putting a statement in the (state) Constitution which runs down or is bigoted toward people who have a different kind of loving relationship, that I may not understand, is going to be productive.”

Luke has a way of crystallizing the obvious at precisely the moment when others aren’t seeing it, but should be.

Then an eye-popping wave of opposition to the amendment appeared this past summer when two of Indiana’s leading corporations, Eli Lilly and Cummins asked legislators to defeat the law. Both companies released strong statements through Freedom Indiana, an organization working to stop the law’s passage. They were joined by the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce.

The unified message: HJR-6 is bad for business.

What started to creep into state-wide thinking about the law: Just it’s consideration – even to have it on the ballot for voters to consider would be damaging for Indiana’s reputation in the eyes of the nation, giving the impression that Indiana isn’t simply a conservative place of traditional values, but a backward place, unwelcoming to people of diverse backgrounds, and out of touch with emerging national consensus on the civil rights issue of our time.

That’s when the universities started to speak out.

If the first wave was corporate, the second was higher education. It rolled across the state in September and October. The presidents of Purdue, Indiana University, Ball State and then Butler all spoke out saying, “Kill this bill.” Where corporate leaders were worried that HJR-6 would affect their ability to attract quality employees, the university presidents were worried about attracting the best and the brightest students to their campuses. Not just gay students, but straight students who might perceive Indiana as a place that enshrined bigotry in its constitution.

If you’d asked any Hoosier political talking head two years ago if they could foresee this growing wave of opposition, they’d have rolled their eyes and said, “P-lease!”

But there was still another wave building. By late November and early December mayors of major cities across the state began weighing in. Eleven mayors, including those from Indianapolis, Bloomington, Evansville, Anderson, Lafayette, Hammond, Ft. Wayne, South Bend and even Carmel released a joint statement opposing the amendment.

Republican Mayor Jim Brainard of Carmel said, “Our government needs to be focused on attracting and retaining good jobs and improving public education for future generations.” He added that government isn’t the institution that should be deciding who is allowed to marry.

This wave was bi-partisan: 6 Democrats and 5 Republicans.

My sources tell me that Noblesville Mayor, John Ditslear also opposes the amendment, but has refused to do so publically.

If this wave continues, Ditslear may wish he’d had the vision and courage of leaders like Kenley or Brainard. Polling over time reveals a decrease in Hoosiers’ support for gay marriage bans every year in the past decade. Polls in 2012 showed Hoosiers evening split on the issue. Polls this year show supporters of a gay marriage ban are now in the minority. And Freedom Indiana has community activists on the ground right here on Noblesville’s courthouse square, chatting up people in coffee shops and restaurants, looking to build small-business opposition to the law to try to influence State Representative, Republican Kathy Richardson to vote no on HJR-6.

In my blog post back in April, I compared those who oppose gay marriage today with those who “stood in the schoolhouse doors” back in the 1950s, trying to keep African Americans out of whites-only schools. I look back on news stories from that time and wince at the faces of those angrily trying to keep blacks “in their place.” To fight so hard on the wrong side at the moment of the tipping point, believing so strongly in a cruel opinion that you can’t see how harshly history will soon judge you, well . . . I almost feel sorry for those folks.
Kathy Richardson
I feel the same way for Tea Party Hoosiers and the Christian-right today. Future generations will judge their actions on this issue and won't judge them kindly. But I’m not angry with them. My heart just hurts for them a little. But not as bad as it hurts for gays and lesbians who have to look on while we all debate whether they should be given the same rights the rest of us take for granted.

I’m hoping Kathy Richardson feels this sea change and has her eye on history.

But while these waves of change are strong, they’re not tsunamis. As I ticked off this list of recent history for my married gay family member, she listened silently and said little. She must have been painfully aware that I wasn’t expressing excitement about making gay marriage legal in Indiana, as it is in her state. I was simply excited that we might not chisel its ban into our constitution.

We’ve come a long way, but still have a long way to go.

To share your thoughts with Kathy Richardson on HJR-6, her number is 317-773-6123 and her email is:

My new book, The Salvage Man began going online for e-readers last week, currently available at, Fastpencil and I'll be doing a big launch to tell the world in the weeks ahead when it's finally available in all formats, but for now, here's an early look:


  1. Don't let media hatred of the Tea Party become an avenue to bash them on social issues such as this. There are many offshoots that may wade into social issues, but I can find lots of democrats that oppose gay marriage too. What do I care if 2 people in a loving relationship wish to marry? I do however care a great deal about the debt built up for my and my children's generations and the force able taking of one person's money and giving it to another. That's all the Tea Party is invested in, not gay marriage. I would hate to see one group of people misrepresented to benefit another.

  2. Here's the Tea Party statement from northern Indiana in favor of the law: