How Indiana’s Proposed Marriage Referendum Would Devastate The Gay Community


Wednesday night, the Indiana House Elections and Apportionment Committee advanced House Joint Resolution 3, a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. During the more than four-hour hearing, many gay and lesbian Hoosiers and their allies testified about how the amendment — and the campaign to pass it — will hurt their families and make them feel like they can no longer call Indiana home. Given the political machinations House Speaker Brian Bosma (R) is employing to make sure it advances and Wednesday’s party-line vote, it seems their concerns fell on deaf ears.

Though the Republican leadership insists that the amendment gives voters the final decision on the question of the same-sex marriage — to settle it “once and for all,” as Gov. Mike Pence (R) recently said — it actually provides what one witness described as a false choice. Until the courts rule otherwise, same-sex marriage is banned by statute whether voters approve the amendment in November or not. Aside from cementing discrimination in the state constitution, HJR 3 has no potential to change the legal status quo for same-sex couples in Indiana. The concerns expressed during the hearing are nevertheless valid, because ample research shows that the campaign to pass it could psychologically and financially devastate the LGBT community.

Glenda Russell, a psychologist at the University of Colorado at Boulder, studied various referenda on same-sex marriage over the past few decades and found that as a result of these campaigns, the gay community’s “lives and loves are objectified, dissected, and subjected to all manner of myths and lies,” dividing families and communities. This “culture war” atmosphere creates immense stress for LGBT people, their children, their family members and their allies — even if they are not actively engaged in the campaign. Those who do get involved face an extra psychological risk from the hostile climate.

Recent studies have confirmed Russell’s findings. One study last year found that stigma has a suppressing effect on whether gay people are open about themselves, and being out is tied to many other personal health benefits. In fact, a study from Rice University found that married same-sex couples are actually physically healthier than couples who only cohabitate.

A particularly telling study looked at data from a massive NIH mental health survey to track the impact of the marriage amendments that passed in 13 states in 2004. Lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals living in those states were interviewed before and after the campaigns, and they showed a 37 percent increase in mood disorders, a 42 percent increase in alcohol-use disorders, and a 248 percent increase in generalized anxiety disorders. Overall, reports of anxiety disorders increased from 2.7 percent of LGB people to 9.4 percent.

At the same time that there is an increase in psychological harm, there is a decrease in funding available to resist that harm. Advocacy groups are faced with the balance of maintaining programs that support the social welfare of the LGBT community while combating the constant stream of attacks from those who support the amendment with media campaigns and events. It’s a drain on the community and movement in every conceivable way.

Indiana’s conservative groups have already demonstrated the kind of lies they will spread in a full campaign. The group Advance America claims that pastors opposed to marriage equality will be put in jail while the state’s Catholic Bishops have stated that the “well-being of children, of the family, and of society” is at stake. The Republicans control the legislature and seem adamant about advancing this amendment, but they have the opportunity now to stop it and spare the gay community the consequences of a stigmatizing multi-month media blitz.