Op-ed: My Father, A State Legislator, Voted Against Me
I have recently become an accidental activist, thrown into the spotlight because of the actions of my own father, Indiana State Representative Milo Smith. He is the Republican chairman of the Elections & Appropriations Committee that passed Indiana’s House Joint Resolution - 3 onto the full House for a vote. That’s the proposed amendment to the Indiana constitution that would not only define marriage as between one man and one woman; it would also prohibit recognition of civil unions and domestic partnerships.
I had to work, so I was only able to watch the last hour of the public hearing before my dad’s committee voted. I listened to several touching stories of love and family and how HJR-3 would be a clear harm to both values. Then the committee voted. The three Democrats voted against, giving detailed explanations as to why they voted as they did. The nine Republicans on the committee voted in favor without as much as an explanation regarding their votes. My dad was the final vote during the roll call. As he voted yes, my heart sank and the blood drained from my face. I was devastated.
I chose to speak out against my father via social media, tempering my language so as not to directly badmouth him. My story quickly spread on the internet and interviews followed with a couple Indiana newspapers, a radio station in Northwest Indiana, and a live television interview on MSNBC. I’ve known for years what my father’s position was. Back in 2007, he said he believed marriage was “between one man and one woman and God.” We simply never discussed it and I had no idea until recently he was going to be voting on it.
My father has known I am gay for about 23 years. He’s had a lot of time to reflect and understand who I am. In that same time period, he’s become far more religious, currently serving as an elder for his church. His belief that marriage is between a man, a woman, and God has been shaped by his belief in the Bible.
Despite his belief that his own son doesn’t deserve equality under the law, we have grown closer over the years, closer than we were when I was growing up. We talk at holidays, birthdays, and periodic, spontaneous phone calls. My sexuality has really never been a topic of discussion, though. During one recent conversation, he mentioned maybe having a family vacation that included Ronnie, my partner of the last 13 years.
That seemed like progress to me.
Then HJR-3 blew up, my dad voted in favor of it, and I took a public stance. I live in California and can get married if I want. My partner and I have been registered domestic partners before Proposition 8 was even on the ballot here. That’s enough for me, even though Ronnie has asked — marriage has never really been one of my dreams. But I have many gay friends still in Indiana, and all along, I have been speaking out for them.
My sister pointed out how current Indiana law and HJR-3 could affect me, though. If Ronnie and I were to go back to Indiana to visit family, we wouldn’t have any legal protections there. I wouldn’t be able to make decisions for Ronnie, or even make decisions for him in the hospital, if he were sick or injured. It would also mean, despite Ronnie knowing far more about my wishes and health, he could potentially be pushed aside by my family so they could make decisions about me, decisions I would prefer they not be the ones to make.
HJR-3 is being pushed by a very narrow coalition from those on the Religious Right. While I am not religious in any way, I have many friends who are. They are from all different walks of life…leftists, moderates, and conservatives, gay and straight, young and old. I will never comprehend how such a small faction within the faith community has so much power to push their discriminatory agenda. They definitely seem to be a minority, but perhaps that is because I tend to associate with more open-minded people, and have trouble tolerating those whose minds are hopelessly closed.
In my opinion, those responsible for pushing discriminatory legislation like HJR-3 have figurative blood on their hands. They may learn about love and family in their churches, but their behavior outside of church clearly gives the green light to those who would harm gays and lesbians. Suicide among gay teens is significantly higher than any other segment of the youth population. That’s because we’ve been demonized for decades as sick and immoral individuals, devaluing our self-worth. We’ve been treated as second-class citizens all these years and they want to institutionalize it. Did they learn nothing of Jim Crow laws?
I wonder who these people think they are. They complain about “redefining” marriage when really they want to legally define it only for themselves. How is that really any different? Despite claims to the contrary, marriage isn’t about religion. Atheists are permitted to marry. Marriage isn’t about procreation, either. There is no requirement to have children. Marriage is about love and family, something we all ultimately define for ourselves. Instead, the proponents of HJR-3 want to “redefine” love and family to be what they say it is.
While I’m not religious, I follow the one tenet found in pretty much every major religion in the world, the Golden Rule. If everyone followed that one rule, the world would be a much better place. Instead, we have people who want to force their values on others through government legislation.
Fortunately, there is strong grass-roots opposition to HJR-3. Freedom Indiana and Indiana Equality Action, two of the largest organizations fighting the proposed amendment, have had great success in demonstrating how the law would hurt families.
They’ve been fighting the battle for the last decade when the amendment was first proposed. The Indiana House of Representatives voted on HJR-3 the first time back in 2011. The vote was a very lopsided 70-26 in favor. This time around, the vote seems to be more evenly split. In just 3 years, hearts and minds have been won over. The battle continues until it is completely defeated, though.
As of this writing, the future of HJR-3 is still in question. The constitutional amendment process is somewhat different in Indiana than in many states, making it difficult to make changes to the document. The House voted to strip out the language that would prohibit recognition of civil unions or domestic partnerships. That change could mean the death of the amendment altogether or it could lead to more political shenanigans that would put the proposed amendment on the ballot for voters to decide this fall.
To preach about love and family but to then vote against both is antithetical to Biblical teachings. I hope one day my dad and the other proponents of HJR-3 will finally realize that. Until then, we must continue to fight for what is right: equality under the law, for everyone.
CHRIS SMITH lives in Culver City, Calf.