My Dad's Gay Rights Bill
[INDIANAPOLIS, IN] - Gay and lesbian Hoosiers made historic progress in the 2003 session of the Indiana general assembly, where I work. No, our legislature didn?t endorse civil unions or pass a hate-crimes law. But one representative did give us our start down the road to equality, before we even asked, by introducing a gay-inclusive nondiscrimination bill. That legislator is my father.
I?m an openly gay man and serve as the chief of staff to B. Patrick Bauer, the Democratic speaker of the Indiana house of representatives. In January, I was surprised by the introduction of House Bill 1684?the first-ever proposal to add sexual orientation to our state?s nondiscrimination laws. I was even more surprised when I realized my father was the author of the bill.
My dad, Ron Liggett, and I are from rural Redkey, population 1,427. He?s a carpenter by trade and first ran for the legislature as the long-shot Democratic nominee in a traditionally Republican district in 1988. He lost. In 1990 he lost again, in a close race. I was the winner that year: On the road as Dad?s campaign manager, I met Representative Bauer, and after the election the future speaker offered me a job at the general assembly. Two years later Dad finally won when the longtime Republican incumbent retired, joining me at the statehouse for the 1993 session.
In many ways the Indiana general assembly has become our extended family. The good people here have watched me grow from a kid out of college to the top staff person for the speaker of the house. They?ve also watched me come out, meet my partner, and become active in the Indiana Stonewall Democrats.
At the statehouse I enjoy being ?Ron?s son,? and my dad jokes that he?s just ?Troy?s dad.?
But HB 1684 was no laughing matter. In fact, it made me a little nervous. It?s my job to preserve the slim 51?49 Democratic majority in the Indiana house?so my boss can remain speaker?and any bill that might give the Republicans a wedge with voters is a delicate matter.
So it was my job to ask my father, the conservative Democrat, what he thought he was doing. Dad was blunt. He wrote the bill, he said, ?because I wanted to, and it?s the right thing to do.? No one had asked him to do it; it was entirely his own concoction.
As chair of the house labor committee, Dad presided over the initial hearings on the bill, which were cordial. Few expected Dad would call immediately for a vote on whether to take the bill to the full house, but that?s exactly what he did. The ?Indiana ENDA? passed out of committee on a bipartisan 11?2 vote.
There was much consternation in both parties about how to handle HB 1684, because they knew it was both extremely controversial and extremely personal. But Dad wanted to know: Who in our assembly family would speak out against homosexuality?
Dad started the debate by simply saying that discrimination against anyone, including on the grounds of sexual orientation, is wrong and that it was time for Indiana to take a stand on the issue. Then he yielded the floor to the bill?s opponents.
I listened to the debate in my office at the side of the house chamber. Our legal counsel tried to avert my attention, knowing how personal and painful this debate might be for me.
But what?s remarkable is that not one legislator said another word about sexual orientation. The parade of Republicans speaking against it complained about government regulation and moaned about whether the law would apply to church's and faith-based programs. Instead of a referendum on homosexuality, the debate quickly became a conservative antigovernment frenzy. In the end, Dad was the only legislator brave enough to speak in favor of the bill.
When a vote was called on February 24, the bill died, with 34 Democrats voting for it and everyone else against.
I know it wasn?t easy for Dad. It hadn?t been easy when I came out to him soon after he was elected. We both know that life often isn?t easy for a gay man or for a Democrat in the rural Midwest. But Dad received not one word of bad press nor a single letter from an upset constituent. And this year, when we celebrated Father?s Day?four days before Dad received the Indiana Stonewall Equality Award?I knew I was the luckiest son in Indiana.