Start with the good news. The effort to put HJR 3, the anti-gay-marriage amendment proposal, on this year’s ballot appears to have failed.
This will spare Indiana the ignominy of becoming the national crossroads of the gay-marriage debate in the fall election season.
Information and enlightenment are more accessible than ever, but troglodytical ideas can still find a toehold almost anywhere. With luck, the spotlight will soon land on some other struggle in some far-away state.
That doesn’t mean the rainbow coalition of people, companies and institutions to fight this can rest on its laurels. There is important work yet to be done if Indiana is to permanently avoid, and not just delay, this assault on the basic rights of some of its citizens.
We have to build on the positives.
Last week, in the Rules and Legislative Procedure Committee, Senate President Pro Tem David Long presided over an impassioned but civil discussion of the marriage amendment. Long treated proponents and opponents with dignity and respect, gently reminding speakers from both sides to finish if they ran past their five-minute limit and thanking them all for their testimony.
The high point of that debate came when Jennifer Fisher of Fort Wayne ascended the podium to make two points, one professional, the other personal.
Fisher, who works as a recruiter for a northeastern Indiana company, first reiterated the pragmatic point that spokes- people from Lilly and Indiana University, among others, also made: HJR 3, in whatever form it’s voted on, sends a message of exclusion at a time when our state should be doing all it can to be attractive and welcoming to businesses and workers.
But Fisher told the legislators that she had a personal reason, as well, for fearing the amendment. Fisher is gay and she and her partner, who is a police officer, want to start a family. As all with family members in law enforcement do, Fisher worries that her partner could go to work some day and never come back. If she is killed in the line of duty, she told the legislature, someone could take my family. Fisher told the legislators that, to her, the marriage amendment held the potential to take away everything that I love.
Looking around the Senate chamber, Fisher noted the irony that many of those who were speaking in favor of HJR 3 were members of minority groups that in the past had benefited from government protection of their rights.
I’m not asking you to believe that my love and my life are right or wrong, she told the group. I’m just asking you to protect my rights.
After her testimony, Fisher said she had been courteously treated by the committee and that she hoped that legislators who hear directly from people with her point of view would modify their views.
That didn’t happen this time around. The Senate committee passed HJR 3 to the full Senate, though without reinserting the infamous second sentence that could have placed the measure on this year’s election ballot. Monday, the Senate voted 32-17 to pass the altered amendment bill.
And despite Fisher’s heartfelt testimony, despite the onrush of change, the legislators who voted for HJR 3 will be ready to start the process again next year. Even worse, the courageous handful of House Republicans who voted to take the second sentence out of the amendment are already facing challenges from the righteous right.
Indeed, Freedom Indiana, which did such a good job of bringing opponents of the amendment together statewide, issued a statement giving opponents permission to breathe a collective sigh of relief.
It’s a moment not for complacency, but for those who value the American tradition of freedom and respect for diversity to fight back at the ballot box – or resign themselves to years more of self-righteous intolerance at the state legislature.