The welcome demise of SJR-7, at least for this year, as well as the unwelcome demise of hate crimes legislation in the General Assembly has prompted a number of items in the Hoosier print media these past few days. I recommend for your more detailed reading one by Indianapolis Star columnist Dan Carpenter, entitled "Winning Without Glory", as well as two pieces in NUVO by Tom Alvarez ("Miracle at the Statehouse") and ("Taking Back Indiana's Republican Party: Thank Pat Bauer") by David Hoppe. I also note the full-page ad in NUVO that Indiana Equality has thanking the many individuals and organizations who worked together with respect to the SJR-7 defeat in the House Rules and Legislative Policy, as well as the five courageous committee members who voted against it themselves.
Before I highlight portions of the above items, I want to give special mention of the impact the local blogosphere has had in helping focus public and legislative attention on the SJR-7 debate, especially the problems with the measure's second line. While I won't go so far as to claim that terms like "second sentence", "second line", or "section (b)" have become household words from Hammond to Lawrenceburg or from Mt. Vernon to Angola, Gary Welsh's many laudable efforts at his Advance Indiana and Bil Browning's fine and copious offerings on this site have helped enormously in bringing these matters to the attention of increasing numbers of Internet readers. I'm pleased to echo the public kudos given to both of them at last Monday night's celebration at the old Firehouse on Mass Avenue.
Tom Alvarez's piece in NUVO concentrated on SJR-7, and mentioned the important role of Indiana Equality, including its lobbyists John Joanette and Mark St. John of Lambda Consulting, who worked with legislators of both parties and other lobbyists in the successful SJR-7 effort. Tom goes on to quote Kath Sarris, longtime leader in the LGBT community and current Chair of Indiana Equality's Education Fund:
"I think Hoosiers are incredibly fair minded. I think the longer they looked at this issue they realized it was about creating a wedge. It wasn't about marriage. It was about gaining votes by convincing people they need to feel superior to someone else. All that doesn't bode well with the majority of Hoosiers. The longer we can elevate the discussion by talking about tolerance and why its good for everybody the more we gain support for our position."
That increasing manifestation of fairness is in stark contrast to the continuing lack of candor by SJR-7's authors. They continue their silence as to why, despite warnings by none other than conservative patron judicial saint Judge Robert Bork that its language was "poorly written" and in need of clarification, SJR-7 (until stopped last week) had been rammed through "as is" for the purely partisan political aim of energizing the Republican base in November 2008.
David Hoppe's NUVO piece talks mostly about how SJR-7's at least temporary demise may signal hope for "...Indiana Republicans who have spent the past 20 years feeling more and more like their party's been hijacked." He goes on to say that they have House Speaker Bauer "a big hand" for assisting in the beginnings of their ability to take back their party and its historic stances more in tune with concepts of individual liberty and equality. He ends by saying:
"If the defeat of the constitutional amendment seems a victory for Democrats, it's really a return to the conservative common sense associated with the middle ground where most of Indiana finds itself most of the time. Thanks to the political cover provided by Pat Bauer, it's also a chance for old guard Republicans to regroup and take their party's agenda back. Somewhere Bob Orr [former Republican Indiana Governor, now deceased] must be smiling."
To which I would only add that are growing signs, both locally and on the national level, that many members of the GOP are yearning for a return to the original tenants of political conservatism as Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan understood and articulated them.
In his Indianapolis Star offering, Dan Carpenter is harshly critical of the theocrats who've captured the current Republican ruling class for opposing hate crimes legislation and coming very close to passing SJR-7. But Speaker Bauer and the Democrats don't come up for very much praise from Dan either. He chides them for taking the approach that "...this isn't about equal rights. Discrimination against gay couples who wish to marry is [already] written into state law, and rare is the politician who opposes that." Rather, he continues:
"The demurrer from a constitutional amendment is based not on morality but on the state's image and executive recruiting prospects and on the implications of that contested second paragraph denying "the legal incidents of marriage" to any and all unmarried couples. Those are legitimate concerns; but they nonetheless avoid the heart of the matter and leave the other side free to do the same."
Being one whose own blog offerings have concentrated on the problems with the second sentence and its consequences, intended or not, I nonetheless have empathy for Carpenter's sentiments. After I testified at the hearing on March 21st, one member of the committee asked me how I felt about the first section, which defines Indiana marriage as between only one man and one woman, something that Indiana law already states. My reply was that for me, as both a gay man and Indiana citizen, the inequality and second-class citizenship that section would put into our Bill of Rights remained highly offensive.
For me, and I believe for most, if not all, members of the Indiana LGBT community, the question Dan raises concerning the message sent by the concentration on the second sentence isn't an insignificant one. If faced downstream with only two choices, one of an amendment with both sentences, and the other with the second stripped away, which would I (and my life partner) choose to live under for what could well be many years? "Politics is the art of the possible" and yet accepting "half a loaf" and living with the "separate but equal" possibility that Brown v. Board of Education rejected as inherently unequal has its own troubling aspects, as folks in New Jersey and elsewhere well know.
I will continue to do what I can to help assure that the above two choices aren't the only ones available: That the bad law and bad public policy represented by ALL of SJR-7 remains safely in the junkyard of history. I encourage all of you to continue your work and support of that effort.