On Wednesday, LGBT equality advocates in Indiana launched their campaign to stop the state's proposed anti-marriage equality amendment, HJR-6. The campaign, called Freedom Indiana, is a bipartisan coalition of businesses and organizations united behind the goal of defeating the amendment. From the announcement:
Freedom Indiana will immediately undertake a grassroots campaign focused on the 2014 legislative session, where Indiana lawmakers can choose either to table or vote down the amendment or send it to voters for a statewide referendum next November. Freedom Indiana is committed to protecting the Indiana Constitution by defeating the amendment should it appear on the ballot.
Coalition partners include Eli Lilly and Company, Cummins, Indiana Equality Action, Freedom to Marry, Gill Action, American Unity Fund, American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana and Human Rights Campaign.
I know what you're thinking - and you're right - this does not look like the sort of state where we typically win. But looks can be deceiving. Not only is Indiana winnable, but it's a monumentally important win and pro-equality advocates should pay special attention.
Indiana Is Winnable
Indiana is a quirky state. Folks have referred to it as "the middle finger of the South jutting up into the North" with very good reason. In both the Indiana House and Senate, Republicans hold supermajority status and can conduct business with or without Democratic involvement. Former Congressman Mike Pence, who was always one of the most far-right conservatives throughout his tenure in the House, holds the governor's office. The GOP also controls 7 of the 9 congressional districts and one of the state's U.S. Senate seats.
A red-state with lopsided majorities for the GOP up and down the ticket doesn't fit the mold for the type of place marriage equality advocates normally think of as winnable, but the case for Indiana is different. The politics are different, the attitudes are different, and the truth is that Hoosiers aren't nearly as conservative as they seem.
Since 2005, when the first independent poll was taken on marriage equality and the amendment, the numbers have completely flipped. A December 2012 poll shows that only 38% support the proposed constitutional amendment and Hoosiers are now deadlocked on the question of marriage equality 45%-45%.
There is no question that it's still a tough campaign and that pulling off a win will be difficult, but the numbers don't lie - this is a winnable campaign if it goes to the ballot. The hope, of course, is that with the recent ruling from the Supreme Court on DOMA and the clear national trend toward equality, good sense will prevail and advocates can peel off enough support in the next General Assembly session to prevent this discriminatory proposal from ever qualifying for the ballot.
Pivoting from Partisanship
Indiana, being seen as a solidly red state, is often overlooked in both progressive politics and LGBT organizing. This is a mistake. The reality in Indiana is far more complicated.
While the GOP does control the state top to bottom right now, you may remember a certain Democratic candidate broke then nearly six-decade lock the GOP had on the state in the 2008 presidential election. Hoosiers are practical and have more of a libertarian streak than most Republicans today can muster.
The lopsided wins for the GOP have more to do with a weak state Democratic party and severe gerrymandering than the staunch conservatism of the populace. Most voting Hoosiers actually hew closer to what I'd call a populist libertarian political philosophy than any other. While that philosophy has its roots in conservatism, radicalism and discrimination are anathema to the famed Hoosier Hospitality everyday folk hold so dear.
Many have been saying all along that marriage equality is a conservative value. It's time to find out if that is true.
Winning an amendment fight in a perceptibly red state would be a major new landmark in our movement and do more to erase the partisan divide on marriage equality than possibly any state previously.
Flipping the Script
Not only that, Indiana is poised to be the last state to attempt a constitutional amendment banning marriage equality. That is a fight we want to win - when your opponent is down, you don't let them get back up, even for a moment.
Defeating HJR-6 in Indiana will send the strongest signal yet that we are winning and it will give many more fence-sitters the cover they need to finally hop over to our side. We could see another wave of prominent politicians - possibly more than ever from the GOP - come out to declare their support for the freedom to marry.
It is, in many ways, a harbinger of what's to come. Imagine the recalculations in conservative circles if marriage equality opponents were to lose in a place where, by all indications, they should waltz to victory. Marriage equality foes will have nowhere to turn but the deep South for majority opposition to the freedom to marry - and we know opposition to equality is fading there as well.
Indiana is where we draw the proverbial line in the sand - this far, no further. Bigotry will no longer win the day. Marriage equality is a conservative value as much as it is a progressive value. Indiana has a better chance to prove that definitively than any state so far.
Join me in supporting the Hoosier state LGBT community and their allies as they tackle the biggest effort for LGBT equality in the state's history.
Check out the Freedom Indiana website, like their Facebook page, and follow the campaign on Twitter to stay up to date on this uniquely pivotal equality campaign.