On Monday, February 7, 2011, I, along with two other PFLAG moms, heard the testimony for and against SJR-6 - the "Marriage Discrimination Amendment" in Indiana. The proposed amendment says: "Marriage. Provides that only marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Indiana. Provides that a legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized. This proposed amendment has not been previously agreed to by a general assembly."
SJR-6 passed by a vote of 8-4. Even if it passes this year, it would have to be approved by another separately elected legislature and then voted on by the citizens of Indiana before it could be put into the Constitution. Hopefully this won't occur.
Before the testimony began, Rep. Eric Turner, co-author of the bill, explained the history of the bill. He said that 38 states have statutes against same-sex marriage. Passage on the bill in Indiana began in 2007 and 2008 and failed. Now they are starting all over again.
The testimony began with some common themes. Procreation as the basis for marriage was espoused by Austin Nimocks, Sr. Legal Counsel of the Alliance Defense Fund and Curt Smith of the American Family Institute. And Jim Bopp, Jr., a legal expert from Terre Haute, said that marriage is between one man and one woman. He assured us that the amendment would not affect Indiana domestic violence laws, health care benefits, contractual care, or adoption.
Glenn Tebbe from the Indiana Catholic Conference said he supports the marriage of one man and one woman, and he shares this view with all of humanity. He added that marriage has weakened and eroded and that we need to strengthen the definition of marriage. However, he did also say that he believes in the dignity of homosexuals, that they should be respected, and that he condemns discrimination of them. I personally am constantly amazed by the hypocracy of people who feel the need to put down a group of people while professing respect for them at the same time.
Micah Clark from the American Family Association said that people have the right to live free, but 2% of the population doesn't have the right to change marriage. He then brought up Sunday's Super Bowl and why marriage should only be between one man and one woman. "If any two teams could place it would lose the significance. It wouldn't be so super." He added, "By the same token, if we change the definition of marriage, it loses its unique significance. If any two people can marry, it doesn't mean much." Many of us scratched our heads at the Super Bowl analogy. No matter how he words it, he is still being discriminatory and hateful.
We then heard testimony from those opposing the Amendment. Jessica Wilch, president of Indiana Equality, is concerned about this force that wants to undermine the rights of GLBT people here in Indiana, and asks for no more or no less than anyone else in this room - she demanded equal presence in this society.
Dr. Cynthia Conley, Assistant Professor in the School of Social Work at Ball State University, talked of the parental concerns of GLBT parents. She said she got legally married to her same-sex partner in Canada because she couldn't get married here. She has an 11-year-old daughter who excels academically and deserves to have parents who aren't second-class citizens. She said that this amendment won't stop GLBT people from having children and relationships, and we should seek state constitutions that help them, not harm them.
Don Sherfick from Indiana Equality (and a fellow Bilerico contributor) said he also gave testimony in 2007 regarding SJR7. He said that GLBT people are your neighbors and relatives, whether you're a Democrat, Republican, or Libertarian, and "we are not going away." He remarked that "we should mark our foreheads with the message INDIANA DO NOT RECOGNIZE." He said the slogan by the other side is "just let the people vote." There are not too many choices - it's this way or the highway.
Dr. William Buffie, a physician of Internal Medicine, said that the legislators should not vote based on opinions or innuendoes. He noted that if the resolution passes, there will be negative mental health outcomes. The exclusion of same-sex marriage contributes to health disparities in the United States. He said that same-sex exclusion detracts from healthcare and this is not opinion but is fact. He talked about the brain-drain from Indiana and that he personally knows of two talented physicians who left Indiana to move to Massachusetts so they could get married.
Dr. Buffie said that the opposition uses vanity journals, not peer-reviewed or evidence-based science, and that they give evidence from bogus organizations. He discussed Minority Stress - it's what happens when one internalizes prejudice. He said that SJR6 is an extension of institutionalized stigma, and that all are impacted by it, not just GLBT people.
The final speaker was a gay young man who was sitting next to me. His name is Patrick Roth. When we came in, he wanted to give the chairman his testimony and get on a list, but we told him that the speakers were already in place. But at the end of the testimonies, he got up and asked to speak. The chairman begrudgingly gave him permission.
Patrick spoke about his husband, his 13-year-old daughter, the two homes they own in Indianapolis, that he volunteers at his daughter's school and in the community, pays taxes, votes, and that he has a very stable family. He said he and his husband had to go to Canada to get married because Indiana doesn't permit same-sex marriage. He said that adding this kind of discrimination to the Constitution of Indiana won't strengthen anyone's marriage.
He concluded by saying that if the amendment is passed, he would hate to tell his daughter that some families are better than hers. Patrick then said, "If you really want to amend the Constitution of the great State of Indiana, why not this? Scrap this proposed Amendment entirely, and put it its place an Amendment that states simply and clearly: "The Legislature shall pass no laws, nor make any Amendments, that do harm to any group in Society, while doing no good for any other."
Patrick received applause from the opponents to SJR6 and I gave him a big hug when he came back to his seat. TV and newspaper reporters ran to get his story, and he was featured on the 6:00 TV news that night.
At the end of the public testimony, Rep. Turner spoke and assured the assembly that he didn't write this bill to discriminate against the GLBT community. We all know that in fact he did. It's clear that he has no respect for GLBT people and their families. If he did, we wouldn't have been at a hearing today.
What bothers me is that I don't believe that "the people" should have the right to decide who can and who cannot get married. Why should one group of people decide what rights another group should have? I would think that as a country we would have evolved beyond that.
What now? We have a lot of work to do. As we say in PFLAG, we have a lot of hearts and minds to change.
P.S. - Today I learned that the 2nd reading amendment to HJR-6 authored by Representative Teri (to remove 2nd line regarding civil unions, etc.) has been defeated. HJR-6 is eligible for the 3rd (and final) reading on February 14th.