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Committee chair fails to warn gay son on HJR 3

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Elections Committee Chair Milo Smith stands at the podium in the background during a Jan. 22 hearing while Rep. Eric Turner, R-Cicero, author of HJR 3 and its "clarifying" bill HB 1153, outlined his belief that pursuing such laws would somehow protect his definition of traditional marriage. - MARK A. LEE
  • Mark A. Lee
  • Elections Committee Chair Milo Smith stands at the podium in the background during a Jan. 22 hearing while Rep. Eric Turner, R-Cicero, author of HJR 3 and its "clarifying" bill HB 1153, outlined his belief that pursuing such laws would somehow protect his definition of traditional marriage.

Among the thousands of Hoosiers to mourn the Indiana House Elections Committee's 9-3 vote advancing a resolution to codify homophobia into the state constitution, few if any were more aghast than a native son now living in California.

Chris Smith watched the streaming proceedings live as his father, Rep. Milo Smith, R-Columbus — the Elections Committee chair, led the hearing in which all Republican members voted unanimously to do the bidding of House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, and Gov. Mike Pence, R-Columbus, by forcing the controversial issue through the legislative process despite a separate committee's failure to collect enough support to advance the measure.

"I'm pretty familiar with what's going on," Chris said in a telephone interview Thursday. "Over the weekend, a newspaper quoted my dad saying he believed marriage to be between a man and a woman."

His dad had not told him about HJR 3 or about the hearing or about his vote, Chris said, but "making the decision to vote for HJR 3 after having listened to all those people talk about love and family ... it boggles the mind."

Rep. Smith tried to keep a good sense of humor during the hearing (except for tossing out a vet who gave him the thumbs down following the chairman's rebuke of the balcony packed with red-shirted HJR 3 protestors who were being too expressive with their disapproval for his standards). He bent the initial timeframe established for the hearing — one hour for each side, pro and con — and tacked on time to allow an opportunity to speak for the many more people who came to speak against the measure than for it.

One woman said that everyone has the experience of having a gay child or a friend with a gay child. She asked if they'd feel comfortable making those friends and relatives family feel unwelcome in Indiana. Rep. Smith looked stone-faced during that speech. His fellow GOP committee members mimicked that hardened facade, even after hours of tales of anguish and suffering and shame and economic consequence.

Watching Smith listen to that question was particularly interesting for this reporter because word had arrived in my inbox earlier in the day that he had a gay son, Chris, who was living in California. "Wow," I thought. "I wonder what that feels like to him right now. Does he realize how many people he is deeply offending and wounding and sentencing to extended second-class citizenship? I wonder if his son feels unwelcome in Indiana?"

Actually, Chris said he "felt very comfortable in Indianapolis being out."

But, he added, he really is more of big city guy (as in bigger than Indy). "I wasn't happy in Indiana," he said "I felt so constricted."

RELATED CONTENT: House votes Monday on HJR 3

After living happily in Chicago for several years, he followed his partner, Ronnie, when he transferred to California for work.

"I personally have no interest in getting married," Chris said, noting he and his partner have a registered domestic partnership in case something happens to one of them because they own a condo together and it streamlines benefits and inheritance issues.

After Rep. Smith finished the hearing, called the vote and concluded the hearing, we media rushed the legislators. Most of them went straight for Rep Casey Cox, the only GOP member who reserved the right to switch his vote on the House floor if the amendment's second sentence were not removed.

I saw the chairman preparing to descend from his podium, so I stepped up and introduced myself. "How do you feel right now?" I asked.

"I don't know," he said, his face somewhat gaunt, drawn with a worn and heavy brow. "It's been a long process — I'm a little tired. It should go to the voters, we've been debating it since 2002."

OPINION: On the vet tossed from the hearings

I asked him what he thought the onslaught of political advertising that would be unleashed if the legislature went on to pass HJR 3.

"I hope they'll keep it as civil as they were today in this hearing," he said.

I didn't confront him about how having a gay son affected his thinking throughout this process until later in the evening when the pack of reporters had dispersed. I found him chatting with some Republican staffers and asked him for a word. He stepped aside into a semi-private lobby; I then asked him.

He confirmed his core belief that codifying a heterosexually exclusive definition of marriage into the constitution will protect what he sees as the proper configuration of a married partnership. As for the rest of it — the mandate that other configurations shall not be recognized — that's the part where he feels the voters should be able to cast the judgments.

I asked him if he felt Chris left the state because of strong anti-gay streams in the atmosphere. He said he didn't think so, but that I'd have to ask Chris.

Whenever he talks to Chris, the representative said, "I say 'I love you son.' And he says, 'I love you dad.'"

Lifestyle and politics apparently don't come up.

YOUR VOICE: How would HJR 3 affect you?

Though he and his dad weren't very close after his parents' divorce, Chris said, "we've really gotten close over the past few years.

"In the back of my mind, I knew his beliefs. He recently suggested a family gathering to include me and my boyfriend. We never really talked about my life to think he doesn't consider me as normal or equal."

Overall, Chris said, "I'm really sad. I'm embarrassed. I'm really disgusted by the whole thing. I'm confused as to what I should do ...

"To hear all those stories of love and family – I couldn't understand how people can sit there saying your love and family don't matter [because] it's our opinion that matters."

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