In a few weeks the Indiana legislature will make a decision on whether to vote on a constitutional amendment that bans same-sex marriage. If it passes, it will go before voters next year.
If you thought that same-sex marriage was already illegal in Indiana, you’d be right. Current state law says marriage is between one man, and one woman, and that’s that. Also banned is any kind of legal recognition for same sex couples, including domestic partnerships and civil unions.
What legislative leaders are looking at now goes a step farther – a proposal to enshrine these restrictions into the state constitution. Proponents say that would essentially protect the state law from judges overturning it in specific cases.
Micah Clark would like to see that happen. He’s the Executive Director for the American Family Association, a group that supports the constitutional amendment.
“This is about preserving the public policy ideal about marriage, it’s not about changing what private corporations do or change individuals’ behavior" Clark says. "It’s about upholding the ideal that marriage is a special union between a man and a woman.”
Many legislators have agreed with him. The law banning same-sex marriage came into effect in 2004, and every year since then, there has been an effort to create a constitutional amendment reiterating it.
House Joint Resolution, or HJR 6 is the name of the proposal. It was approved by a wide margin in both houses in 2011. But to create the amendment, it would need to be taken up by and approved by the current legislative session, and then by voters.
Clark says getting the proposal to the ballot is his organization’s ultimate goal. “We wanted to take this issue out of the hands of activist judges, and leave it with the people.”
Megan Robertson disagrees. She's the campaign manager for Freedom Indiana.
“We have legislators for a reason, we’ve elected them to make decisions," Robertson says. "What makes this issue so much more important that the people should vote on it than any other issue that we have a law on? And by the way we already have a law on this.”
Freedom Indiana formed earlier this year aiming to stop the measure before it gets to voters.
“We do have a state statute, it has stood up in the courts, and so it’s really a redundant and unnecessary amendment," Robertson says, "and it just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to add it to our state constitution, our founding document.”
The group’s gained a lot of traction building a statewide bipartisan coalition of businesses, educational institutions, and individuals.
Purdue University, Ball State University, Indiana University and other schools have joined Freedom Indiana citing reasons from economic impact to principles of inclusion.
And businesses like Eli Lilly and Cummins are on board – along with a number of mayors, including Tom Henry in Fort Wayne and Greg Ballard in Indianapolis.
“Whether it’s for marriage equality or saying we don’t need an amendment to the constitution, or saying that it’s harmful for business, they’re trying to recruit the best and the brightest to their companies," Robertson says. "Everyone’s got different reasons to be involved, but we all agree HJR-6 is bad for business, bad for Indiana.”
It’s clear a lot of people have an interest in the issue, and Micah Clark says people will express that interest.
“This is going to be a huge campaign, a lot of money is going to be spent on both sides,” Clark says.
But Clark adds it shouldn’t be up to businesses, the courts or even the legislature to decide, as “there may be changing opinions on how people view marriage or what marriage should be, but the way to determine that is to let the people decide, let the people vote on it.”
But before ordinary Hoosiers get a vote, the legislature has to decide which way it wants to go.