a Boost for Gay Activists Supreme Court’s Decision in Texas Case Could Mean
Gains for Gay Rights in Indiana
Star, June 28, 2003
P. O. Box 145, Indianapolis, IN 46206-0145
By Courtenay Edelhart, email@example.com
This week’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down
state bans on homosexual sex was a symbolic victory that could give momentum
to Indiana’s gay rights movement, advocates and legal scholars said.
“I don’t think it’s an exaggeration at all to
compare this to what Brown vs. Board of Education did for the civil
rights movement,” said Fred Cate, a professor of law at Indiana University.
“I’m sure this will go beyond striking down that one individual law.”
In a 6-3 vote, the court ruled Thursday that a sodomy law
in Texas violates the U.S. Constitution’s right of privacy. The ruling
affects 12 other states with similar laws and had an immediate impact in
Kansas, where the Supreme Court on Friday ordered the release of a teen who
was serving a 17-year sentence for a sex act with a younger teen.
The ruling sends a message to the nation that what people
do in their private lives is their own business and could indirectly bolster
other kinds of cases, said Mark St. John, a lobbyist for Indiana Equality and
the Gender Fairness Coalition of Indiana.
“It opens the door for some new advances, like the
expansion of Indiana’s civil rights laws to include sexual orientation and
Indiana Equality, a gay rights group, is working on that
issue. State Rep. Ron Liggett, D-Redkey, proposed legislation to expand civil
rights laws for gays last session, and St. John said he expects a version to
be introduced in the 2004 session.
Anticipating speculation on the question of gay marriage,
the court said its ruling should be applied narrowly to the issue of private,
consensual sex at home, not “whether the government must give formal
recognition to any relationship that homosexual persons seek to enter.”
Still, many gay rights activists hailed the ruling as a
significant step toward progress on other fronts.
Rob Connoley is executive director of the Indiana Youth
Group, which works with gay and lesbian teens. He said the young people with
whom he works spent hours talking about the ruling.
“A lot of them felt like for the first time in their
lives, there was hope they’d eventually be treated like human beings and
their relationships would be equal with those of their peers,” he said.
Kathy Sarris, president of the gay and lesbian advocacy
group Justice Inc., isn’t as optimistic. She pointed out that Indiana
repealed its sodomy law in the 1970s.
“What’s that got us?” she asked. “Marriage law
hasn’t changed since.”
Chris Douglas is managing partner of the financial
services firm Hendrickson C.H. Douglas & Co. and president of the Rainbow
Chamber of Commerce, a coalition of gay and lesbian business leaders.
He thinks the gay rights movement will have to work its
way up to winning on the issue of gay marriage. In May, a Marion Superior
Court judge dismissed a lawsuit that sought to legalize gay marriages.
“The workplace is the next logical step,” he said.
“The most competitive companies already are offering domestic partner
benefits, but it’s still perfectly legal in Indiana to look someone in the
eye and fire them because they’re gay or lesbian.
“Domestic partner benefits don’t mean anything if the
company can arbitrarily fire you.”
Nationally, 2,282 companies include sexual orientation in
nondiscrimination policies, and 5,799 offer domestic partner benefits,
according to the Human Rights Campaign, a Washington-based gay-rights lobbying
group. That includes 30 and 14, respectively, in Indiana.
Whatever the cause, the gay community now has an
important new weapon in its legal arsenal, said Susan Sommer, an attorney for
the gay rights group Lambda Legal.
“The court made a very strong statement that gays and
lesbians should be afforded the same respect and dignity as anyone else,”
she said. “It’s a powerful precedent.”
The Indianapolis Star’s efforts to reach local
conservative activists were unsuccessful.
Micah Clark of the American Family Association of
Indiana, which works to protect the tradition of marriage between a man and a
woman, could not be reached for comment. Curt Smith of the conservative
lobbying group Indiana Family Institute and state Rep. Woody Burton,
R-Greenwood, were out of town and could not be reached for comment.
Burton has repeatedly introduced legislation that would
explicitly define marriage as a union of heterosexuals.
Nationally, conservative groups decried the ruling as
undermining morality and families, and vowed to fight any effort to expand on
“This opens the door to bigamy, adult incest, polygamy
and prostitution,” said Ken Connor, president of the Family Research
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