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September 2, 2013

Same-sex marriage ban tests ‘Hoosier hospitality’

Rapid growth in diversity prompts contentious bill, inspires push-back

INDIANAPOLIS — In a recent column I wrote when I visited Washington, D.C., as the city was preparing to host the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington, I asked the questions: “Will we see diversity as a threat to our seemingly secure world? Or will we embrace it as a strength?”

I posed those questions in reference to Indiana’s changing demographics: As recent U.S. Census Bureau numbers show, we’re trending toward greater racial and ethnic diversity, which will likely only accelerate in the years to come, as the most racially and ethnically diverse age group — Hoosiers under 5 — grows up.

Expect the same question to be posed to Hoosiers in coming months by the growing coalition of opponents to House Joint Resolution 6, the proposed constitutional amendment that would put the state’s current ban on same-sex marriage into the state constitution and expand it to cover same-sex civil unions.

The coalition, called Freedom Indiana, is rapidly expanding its presence out of the state’s capital city and into communities around Indiana by building the kind of grassroots campaign that can knock traditional political power off its pedestal.

(Think of the grassroots campaign of political novice Glenda Ritz, who with little money or name recognition, took down her well-funded, incumbent opponent in last year’s race for Superintendent of Public Instruction.)

Freedom Indiana is asking supporters to reach out to friends, neighbors and family members (and their Facebook friends, Twitter followers and other social media connections) and do something simple: Start a conversation about why HJR-6 doesn’t jibe with the “Hoosier hospitality” sentiment we claim to embrace.

The task for Freedom Indiana is to change the hearts and minds of the 50 percent of Hoosiers voters, who according to an April poll by Howey Politics Indiana, support the constitutional amendment. In changing those hearts and minds, Freedom Indiana hopes to pressure legislators who supported the proposed amendment when it came up last year to change their vote when the issue comes up again next year. To stop the proposed amendment from going on the 2014 ballot, Freedom Indiana needs to stop the legislature from approving HJR-6 a second time.

In a smart political move, the backers of Freedom Indiana hired a veteran Indiana Republican operative, Megan Robertson, to direct its campaign.

In one of her first emails to potential supporters, Megan wrote about how HJR-6 violates what we hold dear: “Hoosiers from across the state — Libertarian, Democrat and Republican, young and old, gay and straight — have stood shoulder-to-shoulder to show that in Indiana, we believe in protecting freedoms, not taking them away,” she wrote.

That was followed by an email offering supporters a free bumper sticker with the phrase “Liberty for all Hoosiers” prominently displayed.

For legislators unswayed by that plea, here’s where the rubber may hit the road: Indiana’s biggest job creators, including Cummins and Eli Lilly and Co., support Freedom Indiana. For them, HJR-6 is a stinging rebuke to the “Hoosier hospitality” that politicians say has helped Indiana recruit jobs and economic investment for our state.

Is diversity a threat? Or a strength to embrace? Here’s one answer, from one of Indiana’s biggest job creators, Toyota Motor North America, which employs 4,700 workers at its $4.2 billion plant on U.S. 41 near Princeton and generates another 10,000 jobs through its Indiana suppliers. Last year, Toyota was named by the online magazine, DiversityInc., as one of the Top 10 companies in the U.S. for its commitment to hiring gay and lesbian employees and one of the Top 50 companies for its commitment to diversity.

The CEO of Toyota North America greeted the award with these words: “At Toyota, we believe inclusiveness and diversity are essential to our business and act as a strong catalyst to drive our success.”

Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for CNHI, the Tribune-Star’s parent company. She can be reached at maureen.hay den@indianamedia group.com.

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