HJR-6: Understanding Why The Chamber is Considering a Formal Position on This Issue

As we approach the 2014 Legislative Session, there’s been a great deal of speculation about which issues will be addressed by the Indiana General Assembly. One issue is known. This is the state constitutional amendment called House Joint Resolution 6 (HJR-6). This piece of legislation has prompted much discussion, confusion and debate in the media and in communities around the state.

The Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce has not taken
a position on HJR-6, and it’s possible we won’t.

┬áBut there are several key questions about this amendment that make it deserving to be vetted through our thoughtful advocacy process. Our Legislative Council, Advocacy Council, Executive Committee and Board of Directors – a diverse group of volunteers who represent our 1,100 members – are reviewing and discussing HJR-6’s potential impact on businesses, our members and our region’s ability to do business. It is a discussion on how our legislators spend the next session and how to protect our community, region and State’s business climate.

The Questions
With the growing debate come questions: Why have Indiana’s major employers like Eli Lily and Cummins, higher education institutions like Indiana University and Ball State, and chambers of commerce like the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce come forward in opposition to HJR-6?

More importantly, why is the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce considering taking a position on HJR-6? Why would The Chamber enter what appears to be a moral issue? Shouldn’t The Chamber’s focus remain on business issues? All good questions that I hope to answer, while beginning with a quick overview of what this amendment is.

Background on HJR-6
Since 1997, Indiana law has stated that same sex marriage is prohibited. HJR-6 would convert the current state law defining marriage to an amendment to the State’s Constitution. What HJR-6 would do is put the prohibition into the Indiana constitution, a status which would be very difficult to change and to do so, would take another completely new constitutional amendment process. It would not only prohibit same sex marriage, as the statute already does, but any “legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage.” The Indiana General Assembly will consider this amendment for the second and final time early next year. If the legislature approves the amendment, Indiana voters will be asked to vote on the amendment in a statewide referendum in November 2014.

Now that we know what it is, let’s address the bigger question:

Why is The Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce
considering taking a position on HJR-6?

Possible Impact to Business
The issue being debated by the business community is not the moral aspect of this issue. On the surface, HJR-6 appears to be a moral issue involving same sex marriage and where individuals stand on this issue. But, HJR-6 has far-reaching ramifications for businesses currently operating in our state and those that we might attract to set up shop here in the future.

Efficiency in Government
The Chamber is the voice of business and, through our 2014 Legislative Survey, our members have let us know the critical issues for our local businesses remain: Education, Workforce Development, Regulatory Reform, and Infrastructure. These concerns will be overshadowed by the political capital expended discussing an issue that already has a law in place. The Chamber believes in efficient, effective government at all levels. With a law already in place, HJR-6 is redundant and a strain on law makers’ time and taxpayer money.

Ability to Attract & Retain Workforce Talent
Along with being the voice of business, The Chamber also works to protect a favorable business climate to retain and attract jobs, talent and commerce in our community and region. Indiana has made great progress in adding business-friendly laws to the books, such as corporate income tax reduction, investment in roads and infrastructure, and in workforce development, with more always needing to be done. In addition, more and more businesses and institutions now offer, or are considering adding, benefits specifically for those with partners or same-sex spouses, stating that these benefits are necessary and assist with their talent attraction/retention efforts. Those major Indiana employers who have stepped out in opposition to HJR-6 have stated that certain provisions of HJR-6 would limit their ability to offer benefits that they currently provide to their employees and could inhibit their ability to attract a talented workforce from around the globe, thereby negatively impacting their ability to compete. Eli Lilly & Co. and Cummins, two of Indiana’s corporate heavyweights, have been very vocal about the amendment’s potential effect on their ability to recruit talent and stay competitive. Our community’s largest employer, Indiana University, echoed the same concerns with their opposition to HJR-6.

Legal & Policy Quagmire
With several states – including our neighbor Illinois – passing laws legalizing same-sex marriages, other businesses have stated that adding such limitations to the Indiana Constitution gives the perception that we are not a progressive, business-friendly state. The Indianapolis Chamber, in opposing the amendment, suggested it could affect employer-provided domestic partner benefits, municipal human rights ordinances, legal contracts and other legal protections for unmarried couples, gay or straight. This then creates a legal and policy quagmire for our businesses and institutions.

The Process Going Forward
We are reviewing the legislation through our due diligence process. We are listening to feedback and concerns from our members. Our volunteers that serve on our Legislative Council, Advocacy Council, Executive Committee and Board of Directors are asking hard questions, ever mindful of the role they play in representing our membership. There are no easy answers when debates involve personal beliefs. But The Chamber and its volunteers are looking at HJR-6 in the context of business and the effect it will have on business. That’s our role as the voice of business in our community.