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Fort Wayne LGBTQ community concerned about impact of HJR-6 on lives, economy

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What is the current situation for same-sex couples in Indiana?
Indiana has a law stating only a man and woman can be married. Therefore, even without amending the constitution, it's illegal for same-sex couples to get married. Couples do not have any option for legal recognition of their relationships. Some businesses and universities offer partner benefits.

What is HJR-6?
House Joint Resolution 6 is a proposed amendment that would permanently alter the Indiana Constitution to define marriage and could potentially affect hundreds of rights related to marriage under current Indiana law.

If enacted, this would prohibit future legislatures from passing a law that would allow same-sex couples to get legally married. It would also prohibit any future legislatures from enacting a law that would allow any legal protections for any unmarried relationships that are similar to marriage such as civil unions and domestic partnerships.

HJR-6 language
“Only a marriage between one (1) man and one (1) women shall be valid or recognized as marriage in Indiana. A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized.”

Proposed constitutional gay-marriage ban could drive away people, business

Thursday, November 7, 2013 - 7:47 am

Born and raised in Fort Wayne, 24-year-old Kody Tinnel and his boyfriend, 24-year-old Corey Allen, own a home on the northeast side of Fort Wayne, work in the city and attend school at IPFW. The couple could never imagine leaving their beloved hometown, but with the proposed amendment banning gay marriage, the couple is unsure about their future in Indiana.

“I've enjoyed living here. Fort Wayne has a lot going for it and I have been able to make a nice life here for myself. There's been no reason to move. But now, I'm seeing that other states are moving forward on the issue of equality and seeing that Indiana is moving back, it's disappointing and frustrating,” he said.

Yet, Tinnel still has hope that the state can embrace equality for the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and questioning) community.

That's also the goal of the Freedom Indiana campaign.

The campaign for equal rights

Freedom Indiana, which began in August with the introduction of the proposed amendment, is a statewide bipartisan coalition of businesses, faith leaders, civil rights and community organizations and individuals united to defeat HJR-6.

Freedom Indiana recently established an office in Fort Wayne. Like any grassroots campaign, the goal is to activate people to make phone calls and write letters to their lawmakers and to educate the community about the amendment and its possible impact.

The statewide campaign is spearheaded by former Republican campaign leader 31-year-old Megan Robertson of Indianapolis.

Robertson left her job with U.S. Rep. Luke Messer, an Indiana Republican who opposes same-sex marriage, to become the lead soldier in the fight against the amendment.

Robertson is also gay. Her role in this fight is one that mixes personal and political worlds and is a reflection of the changing tide in younger Republicans who care less about social issue and more about the governing fundamentals of the party.

A bipartisan effort

Jennifer Wagner, communications director for the campaign, is from the other side of the political aisle.

A democratic campaign leader, Wagner joined the campaign to help educate the public on what this bill really means to the people affected and how it could have a huge economic impact on the state as a whole.

“This is not a partisan issue. It's not an issue of young or old. It's not an issue of gay or straight. Everybody is on this campaign to make sure that we don't put something in our constitution that tells certain people in our state that they are not welcome here,” she said.

Bellwether Research conducted a poll of 800 registered voters between Sept. 17 and 19 and found, by a 64-36 percent margin, voters oppose amending the constitution to address same-sex marriage. This is true for a majority, 57 percent, of Republicans, including 54 percent of “very” conservative voters, and for two-thirds of Independents and Democrats.

Tinnel, who is very involved in the Republican party in Fort Wayne, likes to remind the community that the conservative approach to this issue is to encourage small government interference and allow for fundamental fairness.

“While there is more work to do done on the Republican front, there are Republicans out there that subscribe to the philosophy of smaller government, and they see the government's role in this should be to let people live their lives,” he said.

This could also have a huge impact on economic development. Tinnel worries that to have a strong, stable economy, the state needs to attract professionals of all types, and that won't happen.

“It's important for people to understand that there are fiscal and economic consequences that should not be taken lightly. If Indiana wants to pass this issue, that will impact the possibility of businesses moving to our state,” Tinnel said.

Being a part of the conversation

So what is the Greater Fort Wayne Chamber of Commerce's stance on the issue?

A chamber spokesperson said the chamber is not taking a position on the proposed amendment because it's a social issue.

In late October, the Indianapolis Chamber opposed the proposal stating in a news release, “The proposed marriage amendment does nothing to help show the nation that Indiana is a place that welcomes all, not just some, and we must be mindful of how actions such as this will impact our competitiveness on a national and global level.”

Universities across Indiana are voicing opinions on the proposed constitutional gay-marriage ban. Indiana University, Wabash and DePauw expressed opposition to the proposed amendment. Purdue, led by former Gov. Mitch Daniels, is not taking a position on the issue.

When asked about IPFW's stance, IPFW Chancellor Vicky Carwein said this is an issue each individual person can weigh in on, but as an institution, she said that diversity adds richness to the campus and courses at the university.

"IPFW places value on its students, faculty and staff, and diversity is an important aspect of the core mission. We maintain that value. We continue to recruit top-notch faculty and staff, and embrace our diverse group of students," she said.

Eli Lilly, a friend of the Freedom Indiana Campaign, also chimed in. The director of corporate responsibility, Robert Smith, said passage of the amendment would hamper efforts by the drugmaker and other businesses to recruit top-notch employees.

A northern Indiana tea party group also commented on the issue releasing a statement in support of HJR-6.

Kosciusko Silent No More president Monica Boyer stated in a news release, "Many people have asked why a Tea Party group would engage in the battle to protect marriage in Indiana. I would answer that question with two words, 'Religious Freedom.' Redefining marriage forces everyone else, including churches, schools, and business owners, to affirm homosexual relationships, denying people their religious freedom and opinion. Facts have proven over and over again, that when we allow a group to re-define marriage, those who hold religious convictions are criminalized."

The Republican-dominated Legislature passed the amendment in 2011, but the measure must pass a second time to be approved by voters before it's added to the constitution.

Rep. P. Eric Turner, R-Cicero, and Rep. Dennis Cheatham, R-North Vernon, are primary supporters of the bill and repeatedly introduced the measure.

Cheatham told the Evansville Courier & Press that same-sex couples have no inherent right to marry. “It's different to have a freedom or privilege than it is to have a right, because those are protected by law,” he said.

The legislation goes before the General Assembly for the second time early next year. If it's approved, the issue would then go before Indiana voters in November 2014.

Supporters of amending the ban into the constitution say it's needed to prevent the courts from legalizing gay marriage in Indiana, but opponents say the step would solidify inequality in the state.

Thirty states have constitutional amendments banning legal recognition of same-sex marriage and five others, including Indiana, ban it by law.

Freedom Indiana leaders are in it for the long haul and stress that if lawmakers decide they want to sent this to the ballot, the group will launch the largest, grassroots, social-issue-based campaign Indiana has ever seen.

“This is a fundamental American principle of treating others as you would like to be treated. It's the golden rule. It's a basic concept. This directly affects the lives of many, many families in Indiana,” Tinnel said. “I just hope people realize the possible impact.”