Commentary: Indiana law chases away talent

September 8, 2008

The Wellness Community of Central Indiana was established in 1995 as a not-for-profit organization to provide free support, education and hope to individuals and families affected by cancer. At The Wellness Community, cancer patients can share experiences and lend one another encouragement informally or through programs facilitated by professional counselors. The Wellness Community also provides a haven to grieve together in those instances when cancer is the ultimate victor.

Today, the folks at The Wellness Community are grieving over a loss from a different kind of cancer, one that you don't exactly catch but can suffer from just the same. It is the cancer of homophobia and the prejudice and intolerance implicit with that affliction.

For the last eight years, Executive Director James Giessler has shepherded The Wellness Community through many successes. Recently, more than $1.75 million was raised for a new home for The Wellness Community, the Paulsen Family Center for Cancer Support. It was dedicated in June. Giessler was instrumental in every aspect of this project. There is more work to be done at The Wellness Community, but it will have to be accomplished without Giessler. He has accepted a position as president and chief development officer of Prize4Life, a Cambridge, Mass., institution working on a cure for ALS. Undoubtedly he will serve them well. It is our loss.

Giessler is moving with his partner to Massachusetts, a state that has legalized same-sex marriages. Indiana has not. Besides the general political climate here, which Giessler describes as somewhat toxic, he cites two specific reasons for his relocation.

The Wellness Community provides health insurance to Giessler through the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce in a pool of small businesses. The plan, "Chamber Care," was purchased from Anthem Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Indiana, a division of locally based Wellpoint Inc. But does the Chamber really care as the name implies? Chamber Care does not recognize as family an unmarried domestic partner, and therefore Giessler is unable to provide health care benefits for Tim McGinley, his partner of more than 18 years. In Massachusetts, insurance benefits will be granted to Giessler and McGinley just like any other married couple.

Giessler cites an even more insidious ramification of current Indiana law. Because Indiana does not recognize the union of same-sex partners, hospitals may decide whether to recognize a domestic partner as family. According to my incomplete survey, local hospitals will not recognize the Giessler-McGinley union if contested by a biological family member. In that event, the hospital may legally deny visitation and even worse, may deny Giessler control over health decisions for McGinley if he is ever incapacitated. Can you imagine being denied the right to have a say in care for your loved ones or even visit them in the hospital?

Although a law is already on the books in Indiana outlawing same-sex marriages, some politically motivated members of the Legislature proposed an amendment to the Indiana constitution to the same effect. Enlightened employers Eli Lilly and Co. and Cummins Engine testified that recruiting to Indiana would be adversely affected if this amendment were to pass. The amendment failed, but not without vows to resurrect it. If it is reintroduced, it must be met with vigorous and steadfast opposition.

It is too much to hope that Indiana will repeal the ban on same-sex marriages, but our Legislature should provide for a legal union equivalent to marriage that would ensure for Giessler the basics of a familial union now denied to him and his partner. If the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce really cares, it should be a strong advocate for this legislation. The Chamber and our leaders should work diligently to eliminate cancer in all its evil manifestations.

To James Giessler, I wish success in his new endeavor with the hope that, one day soon, Indiana will be known as a state that is open and welcoming regardless of sexual orientation.

Maurer is a shareholder in IBJ Media Corp., which owns the Indianapolis Business Journal. His column appears every other week. To comment on this column, send e-mail to mmaurer@ibj.com.
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