INDIANAPOLIS — Just before we went on the air and they debated same-sex marriage, Curt Smith of the Indiana Family Institute and Indianapolis-Marion County Council member Zach Adamson told me that they recently found out that they’re distantly related.
Somehow, that fits.
The upcoming brawl that the Indiana General Assembly and, after that, most likely the entire state of Indiana will have over a constitutional amendment that would ban gay unions has the feel of an ugly family quarrel.
Smith, who has opposed recognition of gay marriages for more than two decades, and Adamson, who recently wed his longtime partner, found out they have a cousin in common when they met to argue about same-sex unions at another forum a few weeks ago.
Now, they were about to talk about gay marriage again on the radio show I host.
It didn’t take long for the discussion to reveal how close to the bone this debate cuts.
After walking briskly through the researched and focus group-tested talking points on both sides from both sides of the fight, the conversation got personal.
Adamson said, with more than a little anguish in his voice, that this battle isn’t about some abstract policy.
“This is my life,” he said.
For him, this debate is as fundamental as the right to breathe, eat and love. For him to yield would be to deny his own humanity and that of millions of other men and women.
A little bit later, Smith responded with some bite to a question from a caller who had accused him of intolerance.
“I am not a bigot,” he said and went on to say that he was offended by the implication, the anger clear in his voice.
For him, this debate is about the preservation of traditional marriage and family, what he sees as the essential foundation for a safe and just society and the best institution for raising and nurturing children. For him to yield would be to abandon the values he holds most dear and betray his faith.
Both of these men and the audience know that, at one time, I took an active part in this fight. I was executive director of what was then the Indiana Civil Liberties Union when the ICLU sued to overturn Indiana’s ban on gay unions.
Those years taught me that the best time to bring peace is before the fight starts. In that spirit, I asked both Smith and Adamson if it is possible to craft a marriage or civil union that protects what they care most about while addressing the other side’s concerns.
Each pondered the question. The answer that comes back from each was, with regret, no.
We will have to have a fight.
As they spoke, I could not help but notice that the qualities Adamson and Smith have in common are greater than the ones that divide them. Both are tough, smart, principled men who have fierce commitments to their causes. They both love their families and their communities, however they define them.
Perhaps the fact that they are alike shouldn’t be surprising. They are, after all, part of the same extended family.
It appears that there is no avoiding a vicious and ugly fight over same-sex marriages here in Indiana. I worry less about the outcome of the fight than I do about what will follow it — about how we will bring about the peace that must come after the fighting is done.
The tragedy of so many of the nasty family political quarrels that now plague America and Indiana is that these tussles create at least as many losers as they do winners. The losers often feel that they have been betrayed, wounded or insulted by people they considered to be neighbors, friends and fellow citizens.
And thus the seeds of the next fight are planted.
How do we get past that — how do we bind up the state’s and the nation’s wounds in a way that gives comfort to both sides and prevents the next American or Hoosier family death match?
The answer, I suspect, is in the discovery Smith and Adamson recently made.
We are all family and, however this fight ends, both sides need to remember that.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 FM Indianapolis and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.