Last edited: January 01, 2005

Ruling a Boost for Gay Activists Supreme Court’s Decision in Texas Case Could Mean Gains for Gay Rights in Indiana

Indianapolis Star, June 28, 2003
P. O. Box 145, Indianapolis, IN 46206-0145
Fax: 317-444-6800

By Courtenay Edelhart,

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 gender identity.”

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 it.

“This opens the door to bigamy, adult incest, polygamy and prostitution,” said Ken Connor, president of the Family Research Council.

  • Star reporter Kristina Buchthal and The New York Times contributed to this report. Call Star reporter Courtenay Edelhart at 1-317-444-6481.

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