Indiana group to oppose gay marriage amendment

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An alliance of businesses and human rights groups is launching an effort to defeat passage of an amendment that would write Indiana's ban on same-sex marriage into the state constitution.

A coalition that includes major corporations such as Eli Lilly and Co. and groups such as Indiana Equality Action was scheduled to announce the new organization Wednesday in downtown Indianapolis.

The gay marriage ban is expected to be a top issue in Indiana in 2014 as Republicans controlling the Legislature face a deadline to pass the amendment in order to put it to voters. Lawmakers passed the proposed amendment in 2011, but the bill needed a second vote of approval either this year or next year in order to go to voters. Lawmakers let the issue lie dormant this year while they awaited a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage.

Indiana is the latest state to consider adding a gay marriage ban into its constitution. Republicans in Minnesota pushed the issue to the 2012 statewide ballot, where it failed on Election Day. The campaign that formed to defeat the amendment quickly turned its resources to legalizing gay marriage, which became law this month.

North Carolina voters approved a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage in May 2012.

As of June, 36 states banned same-sex marriage, either through legislation or constitutional provisions.

Supporters of the bans say placing them in the constitution makes it harder for future lawmakers and judges to undo laws against same-sex marriages. Critics argue such bans paint states as unfriendly places to do business.

Executives from two of Indiana's largest employers — Indianapolis-based Lilly and Columbus-based engine manufacturer Cummins Inc. — told legislative panels in 2011 that they oppose the amendment because they believe it could damage the state's image and make it harder to recruit new employees.

"We really need to recruit the very best and the very brightest," Lilly executive Rob Smith told The Associated Press on Tuesday. "We think writing this language into the state's highest legal document will provide a barrier to those efforts."

About 62 percent of Fortune 500 companies offer same-sex domestic partner health benefits, according to the gay advocacy group Human Rights Campaign.

Lilly has offered same-sex employee benefits for about 10 years, said Smith, the pharmaceutical giant's senior director of corporate responsibility.

A study conducted last year by Indiana University Maurer School of Law students found 614 state laws — ranging from ethics rules to tax benefits — that would be affected by a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages or civil unions.

"I think all those issues target people's hearts," said Rick Sutton, president of Indiana Equality Action. "They're issues of fairness, and Hoosiers believe in fairness."

One of the amendment's backers disputed the idea that it could hurt businesses.

"There's no evidence to show that a same-sex marriage amendment affects corporate growth," said Micah Clark, executive director of the American Family Association of Indiana.

Indiana law already defines marriage as between a man and woman, but Clark and other supporters of the amendment say they want a stronger prohibition.

A statewide poll in November for the Bowen Center for Public Affairs at Ball State University and Indianapolis station WISH-TV found a majority of Indiana residents opposed amending the state constitution to ban gay marriage.

"The polls are nearly dead even on this issue. I think it's an issue that's up for grabs, and I think Hoosiers are ready to talk about it," Sutton said.

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