January 30, 2015

Today we hear from PFLAG Indianapolis co-President and Indiana State Coordinator Annette Gross.

To say that Annette is a warrior would be something of an understatement: she is tireless, fearless, outspoken, fierce and funny...and always on the front line of the battle for full societal affirmation and legal equality.

Thanks for sharing your story with us, Annette!

ORIGINAL WORDING OF HJR-6 (NOW HJR-3):

Only a marriage of one (1) man and one (1) woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Indiana.

A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized.

Two years ago when I attended the PFLAG National Convention in Alexandria, VA, I attended a workshop led by Freedom to Marry. I remember complaining to the speakers that no one was paying any attention to Indiana and our issue with HJR-6 (the proposed state constitutional ban of same-sex marriage, now called HJR-3). I was told that they would be with us when the time was right.

It seems I didn't have to worry. In September 2013, a coalition called Freedom Indiana was created to fight HJR-6. Coalition partners included Freedom to Marry, Indiana Equality Action, Human Rights Campaign, Gill Action, American Unity Fund, and American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana. Other coalition partners included businesses, faith leaders, civil rights and community organizations, and individuals committed to defeating HJR-3.

Indiana PFLAG chapters played a substantial role in the campaign. Indianapolis PFLAG board members wrote letters to legislators, and held letter-writing parties. Dina Roberts Wakulczyk and I donated hours at the Freedom Indiana office doing data entry, PFLAG members attended phone banks across the state, and Dina Roberts Wakulcyk, Betty Lynch, Stephanie Freeman, Phil Cooper, Judie Doehrman and I made calls in Indianapolis. Our members also wrote to and met with legislators to let them know how HJR-3 would affect us and our families.

PFLAG members were well represented at the hearings: Meredith Richmond from Lafayette/Tippecanoe County; Roger McNett from Fort Wayne; Phil Cooper from White River Valley/Spencer; and Betty Lynch, Dina Roberts Wakulczyk, John Denson, Judie Doehrman, Marcia and Steve Neff, Beth Henkel, Bill Jackson, and myself from Indianapolis were all in attendance.

Our members contributed in other ways as well. Dr. Bill Buffie's report, Public Health Implications of Same-Sex Marriage explained the phenomena of "minority stress" and how it would affect LGBTQ Hoosiers if HJR-3 were to pass, and Sheila Kennedy wrote many articles on her blog, Sheila Kennedy - A Jaundiced Look at the World We Live In. And three of us--Beth Henkel from PFLAG Indianapolis, Cathy Wyatt from PFLAG White River Valley, and I--were the first Moms for Freedom, in partnership with Freedom Indiana.

This campaign brought surprises. Right before the first hearing was scheduled, we learned that HJR-6 had been changed to HJR-3, and that several legislators introduced House Bill 1153 as a "companion" to HJR-3, because the second sentence of HJR-3 was a sticking point; its language is murky and could be open to all sorts of interpretation.

I had the good fortune to be able to speak out about the dangers of HJR-3. On Saturday, January 11th, I was invited to be a guest on the local Internet radio show "Civil Discourse Now." along with Dina Roberts Wakulczyk, another PFLAG Indy member.

The following day, Sunday, January 12th, I was invited by Freedom Indiana to a community meeting in Indianapolis to share my story and explain why HJR-3 is so bad for my family. I was then interviewed by Erika Smith about PFLAG and HJR-3. I also submitted letters to the editor at the Indy Star and Indianapolis Business Journal; and had stories published on the blogs Huffington Post, Indy Vanguard and Peacock-Panache.

On January 13, 2014, the House Judiciary Committee met to hear more than four hours of testimony. I sat upstairs in the Gallery, along with many other supporters of equality. The Gallery was a sea of red, which we all wore at every hearing, in support of love. Our side testified first, and we heard from business, legal, and religious leaders who all shared why they believed that HJR-3 would be so terrible for Indiana. The Indy Chamber of Commerce and big businesses like Eli Lilly and Cummins expressed concerns about the passage of the proposal that they claim would hurt talent recruitment and retention.

Next we heard testimony from our opponents. I had attended all of the previous hearings over the years and recognized many of those testifying. The presidents of three local evangelical, right-wing organizations spoke, explaining why they believed that HJR-3 should be put into our state constitution. We also heard from attorneys, people of faith, and various other opponents of equality. Most of them were not, in my opinion, very credible.

Finally, at the end of a very long day, Speaker of the House Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, declared that the vote would be postponed. After waiting nervously for almost a week, on January 21st we learned that Bosma moved the proposed ban from the House Judiciary Committee to the House Elections and Apportionment Committee: the measure stalled when supporters could not find the votes needed to push it through the Judiciary Committee, spurring Bosma to seek other ways to advance the measure to the full House. I could not believe it: Bosma didn't feel he had enough votes so he just put together a new committee. That didn't seem very democratic to me!

On January 22nd we were back at the Statehouse to hear more testimony. This time I stood outside the House chamber, and again I was aghast as I heard hateful testimony aimed at LGBTQ Hoosiers and their families. I stood near a young woman who was holding up a sign that said "Liberty For All Hoosiers." She was crying throughout the entire testimony. A friend of mine also stood nearby with her wife and young daughter. As I watched her, I could not reconcile the mean and nasty words I heard being said inside the House chambers with the sight of her lovely little girl playing on the floor quietly. I literally couldn't stop crying about this horrible treatment, so I wrote down my thoughts, which were published on a local blog Indy Vanguard, and cross-posted on the Huffington Post.

Happily, opponents of the discriminatory legislation far outweighed proponents. Marya Rose of Cummins Engineering said that Cummins has lost employees because of the anti-gay laws in Indiana. Carol Trexler, a friend of mine who has been diagnosed with lung cancer, discussed her unsanctioned marriage to another woman, and what their lives are like. “People understand what marriage means. They don’t understand what Donna and I are… Because we were not married Donna could not take medical leave to care for me.”

As the testimony ended, I stood huddled with a group of young LGBTQ Hoosiers as we waited for results of the vote. Finally we heard that the committee voted 9-3 along party lines to advance HJR-3 to the full House. Tired and hungry, we all went home to continue to write and call our legislators.

Monday, January 27th, found us back again at the Statehouse for the Second Reading of HJR-3. And again I spent most of the day waiting with other red-clad supporters of equality to learn what our fate would be. It was a very long day because the House was deliberating on other bills as well as ours. At 12:00 noon the Free Range UU Church held an Interfaith Silent Meditation and Prayer Vigil. The House convened at 1:30 p.m., and about two hours later they recessed. We were told that they wanted us to go home, but none of us left. We stood our ground! Finally, members of the House returned. After a few more hours, HJR-3 was brought up for a vote.

The House voted 52-43 to move the proposed amendment to the full Senate, as well as to remove the second sentence, which would have banned civil unions and anything similar to marriage. This vote moved HJR-3 to a third reading, which was heard on January 28th. I could not attend that hearing, but I learned that the House voted 57-40 to send the amended version to the full Senate.

If the altered version is adopted by both chambers of the General Assembly, the measure would not go to voters this November as supporters, including Gov. Mike Pence, would have liked. It could go to the voters in 2016, but no one knows if that will even happen.

So our fight continues. We are now calling and writing our State Senators. We are sharing our stories, letting them know how divisive and mean-spirited this proposed bill really is. Many of us have been fighting this ban for at least ten years. Others have just joined the fight. But we are all in this together. As bad as HJR-3 really is, I realized that something good has come out of it: I have met the most wonderful people and made the most amazing friends. I am sure that in the end we will win. I know we're on the right side of history.

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