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What’s state’s role in marriage?

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Definitions of family and the role of state government in defining those issues in the law were the key points made in a debate about a proposed constitutional amendment.

Jane Henegar, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, and Curt Smith, president of the Indiana Family Institute, answered questions posed by students and shared their opposing views Monday night at Franklin College. The college hosted the debate, which was moderated by former Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Randall Shepard.

The legislative issue, which awaits a vote from the Indiana House Judiciary Committee, in two sentences defines marriage as between one man and one woman and no other combination of people.

The Indiana Constitution currently defines marriage, Smith said, and he hopes that if the amendment were approved it would better bind parents to their children and make families less susceptible to instability.

Studies show that families are most stable if they have a married mother and father, he said.

“I think few things are as sacred, clear and timeless as marriage,” he said.

The trouble with the language in the amendment is that it discriminates in the definition of marriage, and studies show that children thrive in stable homes, regardless of the coupling of their parents, Henegar said. Indiana voters should not consider taking away protections for families with parents who aren’t married or who aren’t heterosexual, she said.

“We should not be about putting limitations on rights in our constitution,” she said.

The amendment doesn’t take away rights or express any anti-gay sentiments, but strengthens a definition already in state law, Smith said. The federal government has given states the right to decide family policy, and Smith said his organization believes marriage is the key to a successful society.

“We see marriage as a public, not just a private, purpose,” he said.

Hoosiers should have the right to vote on the issue, he said.

Henegar disagreed.

“We don’t put the rights of our neighbors up for a show of hands,” Henegar said.

Adding the amendment to state law would be a stain on Indiana’s reputation, just as U.S. law’s historic definition of slaves as less than human was negative, she said.

Employers also have been opposed to the proposed constitutional amendment because the state economy is fragile and job candidates feel unwelcome, Henegar said.

The Indiana economy is one of the best in the Midwest, Smith said, adding that other states with similar amendments, such as Texas and Florida, are thriving economically.

State lawmakers are considering whether to have Hoosiers vote on the proposed amendment during the fall general election.

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