This past Wednesday, January 22, 2014, I witnessed the best that humanity has to offer, and the worst that humanity has to offer. I was at the Statehouse from early in the morning until late at night for the hearing of HJR-3 (the proposed state constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage) in the House Elections and Apportionment Committee. We heard speakers from both sides explain passionately why they either supported or opposed the bill. After about 4 hours of testimony, the committee voted, 9-3, to send this divisive bill to the full House.
Many of us were at the Statehouse for almost 12 hours. It was a long day for me, but not as long as it was for the young LGBT Hoosiers who were also listening to the testimony.
As I stood in front of the window outside the room where testimony was being heard, I noticed a young woman who was standing next to me. In her mid-20's, she stood for hours in front of that window, holding a sign that read "Liberty For All Hoosiers." The other thing I noticed was that as she stood there, she had tears in her eyes, and was very upset. The mother in me had to go over and put my arms around her. What could I say to her? I wanted to tell her everything would be okay, but that wasn't the truth, so I just held her.
On the other side of the door to the hearing room, I saw two little girls sitting on the floor, playing together. They were between 2 and 3 years old. Each one of them had two moms, who were also listening to the testimony. I could see that all four moms were tense, but their daughters played on, oblivious to the hateful words that were being spewed inside the hearing room. What would those two little girls think as the adults inside stated that LGBT people are sick, immoral, and unable to raise children properly? The children I saw were clean, well-dressed, and extremely quiet as they sat together on the floor. Nothing like what some of the people testifying were claiming.
Also on the floor were a group of young people in their teens and early 20's. They were tired, but they stayed all day because the people inside that room were determining those young peoples' futures. They, too, had to listen to the adults, who they were taught to respect, hurl nasty and disrespectful comments at them. I have been in this fight for almost ten years and have somewhat of a thick skin, but these young people don't. What must it be like to be a teenager and hear that you are not moral and "good" enough to get married and raise a family?
My heart was breaking for all of these young people. Inside, the legislators heard many heart-felt stories from LGBT Hoosiers and their families about the difficulties they have had for years because their loving relationships are not sanctioned by the state they call home. Outside, the young people were hoping that these legislators would really LISTEN and do the right thing.
When the vote was ready to be taken, I huddled with a group of these young people as we waited to hear what their fate would be. Some of us were crying, and I felt the young man next to me shaking, with tears in his eyes. Those legislators who opposed HJR-3 each told why they were voting against it. Of the nine legislators who voted for it, only one gave an explanation.
I certainly do not know what was in the hearts and minds of those legislators who voted to send HJR-3 to a full House vote. But it seems to me that these nine people had walked in the door hours earlier with their minds already made up. These legislators heard over fifteen people talk about why this proposed amendment would be so damaging. They heard testimony from clergy, business leaders, a constitutional attorney, the parent of a lesbian daughter, college students, young straight people with gay friends, and a lesbian woman with cancer who just wants to be able to leave this earth with the knowledge that her wife will be able to be with her at the end and have the same rights of any surviving spouse.
Even though it was a difficult day for me, it was much harder for the LGBT Hoosiers who were in attendance at the hearing today. This proposed amendment affects them directly, in more ways than one. Not only would they all lose much-needed protections, but they would know that the state they call home is one which sanctions discrimination. I could imagine the indignity and powerlessness that LGBT Hoosiers must feel knowing that others--straight people--are voting on their fundamental constitutional rights. It must be painful as an LGBT person, hearing others so casually (and yes, arrogantly), discussing granting or denying you YOUR basic rights--the same rights they HAVE and have had since birth and take completely for granted. This is an example of "heterosexual privilege." The Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment really means that NO ONE should be discussing, granting or denying "rights" to anyone! They are supposed to be inalienable!
So, who were the people those nine legislators were thinking about as they voted yes? It wasn't the two little girls playing together who will go to school in a few years and hear that their mommies aren't really married. It wasn't the young LGBT students sitting on the floor, some of whom will keep on enduring bullying in school because other students will believe that if adults can discriminate, so can they. It wasn't the woman with cancer, who may very well die alone because the most important person in her life won't be able to be with her.
No, I imagine that these nine legislators were only thinking of the right-wing men in suits who pushed and pushed for years to get these legislators to vote Yes for this amendment. And if, in the end, HJR-3 does get into our state constitution, these right-wingers and these nine legislators will go on with their lives, and not care at all about the destruction they brought about to a segment of our population who doesn't deserve this kind of discriminatory treatment.
Previously published by Indy Vanguard.
Monday update: HJR3 came before the entire House for the second reading (of the required three). The reading was delayed by a recess, but when they reconvened, they voted to keep the ban on same-sex marriage, but to strike the sentence that would have barred civil unions or any other accommodations for LGBT couples.
The fight continues. The House could still reverse itself in the third reading, or the Senate could approve the original amendment leading to approval by conference committee. Even if the proposed amendment fails this time, the less restrictive, but still onerous version of the amendment will work its way forward leading to more contention and more anti-LGBT rhetoric in the coming years.
What will happen next in Indiana's fight for LGBT equality? Please see Indy Vanguard.