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Equality advocates inveigh intolerance


Mark Mania of the University of Indianapolis rallied for marriage equality at a recent Statehouse rally. - MARK LEE
  • Mark Lee
  • Mark Mania of the University of Indianapolis rallied for marriage equality at a recent Statehouse rally.

About 200 people at last week's "Light the Way to Justice" rally at the Indiana Statehouse, supported by honking car horns from many of the hundreds of passing motorists, stood unequivocal in their position that same-sex marriages should have the same legal rights afforded to heterosexual marriages.

The U.S. Supreme Court held hearings last week on the legality of two matters relating to marriage equality. The first (Hollingsworth v. Perry), heard on March 26, addressed California's ban on gay marriage. The second (United States v. Windsor), heard on March 27, analyzed the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which bans federal recognition of same-sex marriages. Justices have yet to voice their opinions on either case.

Rallies across the country coincided with the hearings.

One attendee at the Indiana rally, Janet Fullen, nodded toward her adult son, who is gay, and said, "He needs the same rights as his sister."

Talking about the nightmare of negativity that her son has endured brought Fullen to tears.

"Every day of his life, he sees discrimination, yet he lives with such grace," she said.

One common denominator among rally attendees was impatience with hate-based religious teachings.

"Nowhere does the Constitution say religious prejudice can dictate marriage equality," said one attendee who cheered as commuters honked their support from Capital Avenue.

Fullen agreed, saying that much of the resistance to equal rights stems from discomfort over challenging certain religious traditions. She noted that her husband, "who loves our son and his partner," had to confront his Baptist roots and learn to become more tolerant.

"How many millions of lives have been ruined because of this [religious] discrimination?" Fullen wondered.

Asked why she was at the rally, Betty Greene Salwaksaid, "I'm here to stand up to those who misuse the Bible." Greene Salwak, who works at Second Presbyterian Church, suggested that Christianity offers a simple message for social-justice concerns, and "the message is grace."

Speaker after speaker expressed impatience with pulpit-fueled vitriol.

Fifteen years ago, Rev. Marie Siroky of the Interfaith Coalition of Nondiscrimination joined with other clergy leaders to circle the Statehouse in a show of support for gay rights. Four years ago, she traveled to Iowa to legally marry her partner of 18 years within the United Church of Christ.

"We don't want special rights. We want equal rights," Siroky said.

A couple from the University of Indianapolis said they are the only openly gay female couple they know at school, but support for gay rights is a given among their peers.

"Growing up gay was easy," one of them said, "minus my dad."

Two girls from Bishop Chatard High School, each of whom has a gay uncle, said acceptance of gay rights might be the exception among older generations, but it is the rule among young people.

Gallup, the long-time polling service, has charted the nation's shifting position on same-sex marriage for more than a decade. In November of 2012, 53 percent of respondents answered yes, that same-sex couples should be recognized as valid, with the same rights as traditional marriages, up from 40 percent in 2009. For several years prior, Gallup presented a similar survey question. In 1996, 27 percent of respondents said same-sex marriages should be equal under law.

In a recent column shared on's "Guest Voices" section, local conservative columnist Cam Savage noted that Republicans are beginning to realize that future political successes will require candidates to embrace the gay community.

"With young voters, those 18- to 29-years-old, 81 percent support gay marriage, as do a majority of voters in every age group except those 65-years and older," Savage wrote.

He also highlighted a report the Republican National Committee released in March, which warned that issues such as gay rights help define for young voters the political party they want to support.

"Younger voters are increasingly put off by the GOP," the RNC paper said. "A post-election survey of voters ages 18-29 in the battleground states of Virginia, Ohio, Florida, and Colorado found that Republicans have an almost 1:2 favorable/unfavorable rating. Democrats have an almost 2:1 favorable rating."

Indiana Republican Attorney General Greg Zoeller has not let concern over changing public opinion dull his zeal for defending Indiana's right to define marriage as it chooses. He filed "friend of the court" briefs to the Supreme Court on the DOMA and Prop 8 cases.

In an open letter shared on, Zoeller said he must defend, not define the law: "I am obligated to defend our state's laws passed by the people's elected representatives in the Indiana Legislature. Our state's legislative branch has the policy-making authority to license marriage within our state's borders using the traditional marriage definition, and I will continue to defend their legal authority in court as necessary. Rather than presuming to decide the constitutionality of our laws by leaving them undefended, I will uphold my responsibility to defend them and instead let the judicial branch decide if they are constitutional, as is its role."

State-by-state laws aren't enough, Fullen said, noting her belief that equal rights "need to be recognized at the federal level."

Advocates outline several changes to the legal landscape that federal recognition of same-sex marriage could enable: It would protect a gay couple's property from extended family members when one partner dies, and ensure that corporate benefits extend to the spouses of gay employees.

Equality advocates count more than 1,000 federal laws and programs that currently apply to opposite-sex marriages, but not same-sex couples. Federal recognition would extend tax, social security, adoption, immigration, and military benefits to all marriages, regardless of sexual orientation.


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