By Bruce Barkhauer
As the Indiana Legislature considers HJR-3, I offer a few reflections.
1. In our legacy as a country, time has not favored the suppression of the rights of a minority by the will and power of a majority. Whether it was enslaving other human-beings, forcibly taking the lands of Native Americans, failing to grant women the right to vote, interring all of the Japanese Americans during the Second World War, or any of a plethora of similar travesties; they all share one thing in common – they have proven to be on the wrong side of history and those who championed them now lie disgraced on the sideline of human progress.
2. “Letting the people decide” while politically expedient, is morally bankrupt. If Congress in 1964 had allowed the people to decide the outcome on civil rights, in many southern states African Americans would not be able to exercise the right to vote and would still be drinking from “separate but equal - Blacks only water fountains”. [Look at North Carolina’s response to SCOTUS relaxing of voting law changes in the once segregated southern states if you think this is over-reach.] At the risk of failing to win a future election, this group stands in the privileged place of doing what is just, fair, and right.
3. I have yet to be convinced that my marriage (or the institution of marriage) is threatened by allowing same-sex persons who choose to commit themselves to one another to enjoy the same legal rights that my partner and I enjoy.
4. Religious Communities who teach against same sex relationships will continue to be protected in their right to do so (and while in disagreement with them, I would defend their right to do so). Churches and pastors will not be required to marry same sex couples. As a pastor for 25 years, there were numerous occasions where I elected not to solemnize and preside over a couple coming to me who wanted me to officiate at their wedding. No attorney or state official ever “came calling” to threaten or force me to do so. Nothing changes.
5. The arguments made not to grant same-sex couples these rights are primarily based on religious values and a particular interpretation of sacred writings. The very communities that claim these writings as scripture are not in full agreement about this, nor are they of one mind about hundreds of other issues. The First Amendment would suggest that such a basis for a law (solely based on religious practice) would in fact, render it unconstitutional. Yes, many of our laws are based on some of the “Ten Words” of the Hebrew Bible – but they are also laws which order society in such a way as to protect and sustain human community and are not bound by a particular religious perspective. Allowing two people who choose to be committed to each other share property legally, provide for the transfer of that property as inheritance at the time of death, enjoy a tax deduction, and have a right to visit and care for their partner as any married couple would; strengthens, rather than diminishes our social fabric. Such commitment between individuals provides for stabilization, not chaos, in our communities.
6. Making something legal does not mean I condone it, it simply provides the protection of the civil rights of those who choose to do so. There are plenty of laws on the books that allow me to do things I personally find objectionable. I simply do not engage in some behaviors that I am afforded the right to under the law, should I choose to exact that privilege. For example, just because it is legal and constitutionally guaranteed that I may own a gun, does not mean I have to purchase one.
7. Should Indiana both resist the temptation to crystalize this aging and passing cultural norm of the opposition to same gender unions and eventually come to (however hesitatingly) embrace or accept these unions, it would strengthen the state. By affirming the value of the diversity of her citizens, it would be a recognition that all who reside within its boundaries have gifts to share that benefit us all. Such a position would be more true to the framers of our original governing documents who were never foolish enough to believe that “Out of Many, One” meant homogeneity of thought, but rather unity of purpose. That purpose, at its best, was meant to be the freedom to pursue one’s happiness and to contribute to the prospect of liberty and justice for each and every individual.
8. Bad laws can be undone, but it is messy, expensive, time consuming, and wastes energy that could otherwise be used to craft legislation that is badly needed to protect the poor, secure the legacy of our natural resources, and provide for the education and nurturing of our children. The Eighteenth Amendment was eventually struck down by the Twenty-first, and this too, if ultimately enacted could be (and likely in less than a generation will be) undone – but at what cost. Let us focus instead on some of the things that really will make the Hoosier State a better place to live.