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July 6, 2014

HOWEY: Evolving Hoosier marriage and equal protection

The last week of June brought extraordinary images to Indiana. With the stroke of a pen, federal Judge Richard Young stuck down the state’s marriage laws passed by overwhelming bipartisan majorities. Within hours, hundreds of gay couples flowed into Hoosier courthouses from Indianapolis, to Nashville, to Washington.

Three days later, a stay was sought by Republican Attorney General Greg Zoeller, and it was issued by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, leaving many of the newly married Hoosiers in legal limbo.

Several things struck me about these turns of events. First, the hundreds of gay and lesbian couples that flowed into Hoosier courthouses large and small did not do so on a whim. Many of them had been in committed, monogamous relationships for years, if not decades. They were seeking equal protection.

There was an inverse reaction by many, measured by polling over the past three years conducted by my publication, Howey Politics Indiana, to be around 50 percent of the population, who saw an affront. To these Hoosiers, marriage is to be between one man and one woman. The laws were passed by Republicans and Democrats and signed and supported by governors from both parties. They saw “judicial activism” turning over laws enacted by the people’s representatives.

It was the Daviess County Clerk Sherri Healy who found herself confronted by this legal and cultural twist, or the “gray area” as she described it. But then she articulated thoughts that had many Hoosiers nodding in agreement, telling a gay couple seeking a license that "our country was founded on the biblical principle of one man and one woman in marriage, and until I hear otherwise, that is what I will follow."

Thus, another tormented chapter in the ever-evolving American experience.

State Sen. Mike Delph, the Carmel Republican and a big proponent of the marriage laws as well as the constitutional amendment, once handed me a pamphlet entitled “The Constitution of the United States.” On several of the first pages, it quotes George Washington, Daniel Webster, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and John and Samuel Adams as “Observing the Hand of Providence.”

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