Denise Moe spent Wednesday celebrating a federal judge’s ruling striking down Indiana’s same-sex marriage ban, but she says the real work in support of marriage equality has just begun.
Moe, a Republican activist from conservative Hendricks County, plans to spend the summer volunteering for a statewide public education campaign that aims to change the hearts and minds of same-sex marriage opponents.
“We’re thrilled with the court decision, but it’s just one piece of the puzzle. We need to change the way people think and feel,” said Moe.
Moe is part of a bipartisan coalition of individuals and groups called Hoosiers Unite for Marriage. They’re collecting and sharing stories of same-sex couples through social media and community and church meetings. Such stories include that of an 87-year-old veteran whose partner of more than 50 years died without being able to leave him survivor’s benefits.
For Moe, the sharing meant taking the case for same-sex marriage to last month’s state Republican convention, where she told fellow delegates of her children’s friends whose parents are same-sex couples. “I told them, ‘These are people who love their children just like we do,’” said Moe, a married mother of two.
“Conversations make a difference,” said Kyle Megrath, coordinator of the Hoosiers Unite group. “Like never before, Hoosiers are talking about what marriage means, and they’re rapidly coming to the conclusion that it’s just wrong to exclude same-sex couples, who are their neighbors and friends and family members, from marriage just because of who they are.”
The new group sprung from the Freedom Indiana campaign that earlier this year derailed legislation to write a same-sex marriage ban into the state constitution.
Republican leaders who control the Statehouse pushed the amendment but found opposition from GOP lawmakers who’d initially supported it, then changed their minds. Several said their conversions were inspired by the personal stories of constituents and clergy.
Founders of Hoosiers Unite for Marriage hailed Wednesday’s decision striking down an Indiana law banning same-sex marriage, but the bigger battle is still to be fought. Quickly after U.S. District Judge Richard Young issued his order, Attorney General Greg Zoeller vowed an appeal and asked for a stay, which if granted would ban same-sex marriages pending a higher court ruling. That could take months.
Zoeller initially cautioned county clerks about issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples until his office issued “proper marriage license procedures” to avoid chaos during the appeal. Some clerks waited for his guidance, while others disregarded the warning and began issuing licenses shortly after the ruling came down.
Young’s ruling acknowledged the fast-changing landscape of same-sex marriage.
“The court has never witnessed a phenomenon throughout the federal court system as is presented with this issue,” Young wrote, referring to a wave of federal court opinions that have struck down bans on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional. In fact, on the same day Young handed down his decision, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Utah’s same-sex marriage ban and seemed poised to do the same in Oklahoma.
“In time, Americans will look at the marriage of couples such as the Plaintiffs, and refer to it simply as a marriage – not a same-sex marriage,” Young wrote. “These couples, when gender and sexual orientation are taken away, are in all respects like the family down the street. The Constitution demands that we treat them as such.”
Jane Henegar, executive director of American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, helped launch Hoosiers Unite for Marriage to get to that goal in a more personal way.
“What we’ve found, in Indiana and across the country, is that the conversation between neighbor to neighbor and family member to family member has really been one of the principal driving forces behind the change in sentiment and the speed with which that change has come,” Henegar said.
On a state level, polling by Howey Politics Indiana and Ball State University over the past three years show growing support for same-sex marriage in Indiana.
Opponents, including the Indiana Family Institute, dispute those results and say a majority of Hoosiers support marriage as a union of one man and one woman. They pushed Statehouse leaders to fight attempts to legalize same-sex marriage.
Wednesday’s ruling prompted opponents of same-sex marriage to pledge to continue to press their case. Gov. Mike Pence voiced support for Zoeller’s appeal, saying states have a right to define marriage. Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma echoed that concern, calling Young’s ruling “truly unfortunate” and he argued that most Hoosiers still oppose same-sex marriage.
Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for CNHI, the Tribune-Star’s parent company. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @MaureenHayden.