Indiana Equality Action 2011 Legislative Review

The 2011 session of the Indiana General Assembly is now history. While the session brought major disappointment for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Hoosiers in the Marriage Discrimination Amendment successfully making the first of three stages for inclusion in Indiana’s constitution, it also saw a partial success for LGBT youth, rejection of an attempt to limit benefits for same-gender couples, and the potential of a brighter future.

MARRIAGE DISCRIMINATION AMENDMENT

Despite the determined efforts of equality proponents, the Indiana General Assembly has set the stage for 2014 ballot initiative to amend the state constitution’s Bill of Rights to ban marriage by same-gender couples.  Passed both by the House of Representatives and the Senate, House Joint Resolution 6 (HJR-6) states:

House Joint Resolution 6 Verbiage

Only a marriage between 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.”

This proposal is not only about marriage equality but would severely restrict the future rights of all lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Hoosiers. The wording of this proposed constitutional amendment will prohibit any opportunity of civil unions, partnership tax incentives, and/or other recognition rights.

The Marriage Discrimination Amendment is being advocated by Advance America, the American Family Association of Indiana, and the Indiana Family Institute. Even though Indiana has passed the Defense of Marriage Act in 1997, a law that has been upheld by Indiana courts, these organizations are aggressively pushing for enactment of an unnecessary and discriminatory amendment.

What happens next?

HJR-6 must pass through the House and Senate again in 2013 or 2014.  If it passes, unaltered, it will be on the ballot in 2014.  This means that Hoosiers will cast their vote either for or against HJR-6 as it is written today.

SUICIDE PREVENTION AND BULLYING

Working with key legislative friends and allies, Indiana Equality Action supported the introduction of legislation to address the recent surge in suicide among American teens including Billy Lucas, 15, from Greensburg, Indiana, who hung himself in his family’s barn after being bullied relentlessly. Indiana Equality Action organized an informal coalition of groups and organizations to help craft and support such legislation, including the Children’s Coalition of Indiana, Indiana Youth Group, ARC of Indiana, Indiana Juvenile Justice Task Force, Marion County Commission on Youth, National Association of Social Workers – Indiana Chapter, NAACP Greater Indianapolis Branch, Prevent Child Abuse – Indiana, and the Midwest Bullying Prevention Project.

Suicide prevention and bullying legislation introduced this year included Senate Bill 538 – bullying prevention (authored by Senator Tom Wyss), Senate Bill 4 – suicide prevention training for school personnel (authored by Senator Patricia Miller, and House Bill 1019 – training for child suicide prevention (authored by Representative Charlie Brown).  While SB 538 was unexpectedly defeated on a three to five vote in a meeting of the Senate Education and Career Development Committee, SB 4 passed both chambers and is headed to the Governor for his signature.

PUBLIC EMPLOYEE HEALTH PLAN BENEFITS

Senate Bill 475, authored by Senator Scott Schneider, would have prohibited state universities (Indiana, Purdue, Indiana State, Ball State, Ivy Tech, and Southern Indiana) from providing domestic partner health plan benefits.  After taking testimony for and against this proposal, the Senate Insurance and Financial Institutions Committee did not take a vote on SB 475, in essence killing the proposal.  IE Action worked in cooperation with the state universities and the American Association of University Professors in opposition to this attempt to discriminate against same-gender couples employed at state universities.