At one point during the Indiana House Elections committee meeting hearing testimony on the proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, the committee’s chairman, Rep. Milo Smith, R-Columbus, lectured the audience.
A lawyer in favor of the ban had just finished with his prepared statement. In the gallery, opponents of House Joint Resolution 3 waved their hands and gestured thumbs down silently to indicate disapproval. Smith told them they couldn’t do that, that he wanted things to be “civil.”
As Smith continued to talk, Scott Spychala turned his thumb down.
Smith ordered the Capitol Police remove Spychala from the gallery of the people’s house, the Indiana House of Representatives.
The police came over and asked Spychala to leave. A tall, thin man wearing a camouflage cap, Spychala took his time leaving. He reached down into his bag, draped an American flag over his shoulder and walked out.
I followed him out and asked if he could talk for a minute.
When I asked his name, he gave it, then added: “Staff Sgt. Scott Spychala.” He explained that he’d served for 20 years in the U.S. Air Force.
I asked him what brought him to the Statehouse for the committee meeting.
“I spent 20 years defending the U.S. Constitution,” he said, his voice soft. “I spent 20 years defending the Indiana Constitution.”
He paused and looked back over toward the House gallery from which he’d just been ejected.
“I don’t think language that excludes people should be written into the Constitution,” he said, his voice growing even softer.
I asked him how he felt about getting thrown out of a House committee meeting.
He shook his head.
“It was a peaceful gesture designed to indicate disapproval,” Spychala said.
He added that he thought his service alone would have earned him the right to express his opinion quietly in front of the people elected to represent him.
I asked him why he’d brought the flag with him.
Spychala shook his head ruefully.
“I spent 20 years defending the flag, too,” he said.
He brought the flag with him and pulled it out when the State Police asked him to leave, he said, because he wanted people to remember what was at stake in the debate over HJR 3. He wanted Hoosiers to see elected officials ejecting the Stars and Stripes from the House chamber.
After he left the service, Spychala spent 15 years working in hotel management. Now he spends most of his time working on behalf of American Veterans for Equal Rights — or AVER.
He handed me a postcard with AVER’s information on it. The card encouraged Hoosiers to support gay veterans. And it encouraged the veterans themselves to show up for patriotic events.
Inside the House chamber, the testimony regarding the proposed constitutional amendment droned on. Speaker after speaker talked about freedom and about how good it was that America and Indiana believed in liberty.
Outside the chamber, Spychala glanced back at the doors he’d just been escorted through and asked if I had any more questions. I shook my head and thanked him for his time.
He gathered up his backpack and walked away.
He took the flag with him.
He’d put it in the backpack.
Before he put the flag away, Spychala folded Old Glory precisely, neatly, meticulously.
Just the way veterans are taught to do it.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.