Mary-Margaret Sweeney

Mary-Margaret Sweeney

Social Justice Solutions | Staff Writer
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“The Personal is Political”: Staying in a Pro-Equality State

I grew up a Hoosier. Summer evenings I’d feast on grilled local corn-on-the-cob, only to be outdone by an Elephant Ear at the State Fair for dessert. We claimed Benjamin Harrison, Larry Byrd, and Michael Jackson like they were our next door neighbors. When I returned to my hometown to bury my mother, my husband was almost put off by how friendly strangers were to us, the famous “Hoosier Hospitality”. “How did you know the woman who offered us her guest room?” he inquired. “I don’t,” I said. “She knew my mom from high school.”

I left Indianapolis to attend college in Chicago, IL. At my departure, I felt ready to eschew the friendly manners, basketball, and behemoth pork tenderloin sandwiches for big city life. And so it went. I stayed after college, bought a home, and claimed the Windy City as my own. I married and settled here, imagining my later years here, too. Yet when my mother died, something switched in my brain, and I began to consider the trade-offs made for the amenities of the city. Sure, my Hoosier friends were buying two story homes that cost, in total, merely the down payment on my three bedroom third floor walk-up condo; but it was more than financial. My friends since childhood, a connection to my mother, to my roots, were there. Feeling rootless when she was gone, I yearned for a place that felt like the past might not be so far gone.
My husband and I have carefully weighed the notion of leaving Chicago for Indianapolis in the coming years. We ohhh and ahhh over the prospect of trading our shared roof deck for our own yard, for lower taxes, a slower pace, for camaraderie with old friends that feel like family. But I find that it has become an ethical dilemma.
The Indiana senate recently approved an amendment to ban same-sex marriage in the state constitution. While the pro-equality organization group, Freedom Indiana, counted it a success as it delayed the measure going to the voters ballots until at least 2016, the fact remains: my home state approved, 32-17, to ban equal rights and protections for a group of human beings. Moreover, same-sex marriage is already illegal in the state; but many Hoosier lawmakers felt that it needed to redundantly change the state constitution to ensure their stance.
The old adage of “Hoosier Hospitality” seems to ring a bit false these days for me.
I am in a heterosexual marriage. My freedom is not directly threatened by states who do not allow homosexual partners to wed. However, I believe strongly in the words of Dr. King in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” I have gay friends, family, and co-workers. And, I am a social worker. I am committed to justice and I challenge myself daily to uphold the principles to which I have committed my life. How can I abandon my state of Illinois that just passed a marriage equality bill for a state actively amending their constitution to deny human rights? I think about the possibility of choosing to become a mother one day, and that my child could be gay. How would I explain that I could have raised them in a state that granted them equal protections, but chose to abandon it for a state that, aggressively even, does not? 
A lesson that lodged itself in my brain from an undergraduate social justice course was that we vote with our dollars. We can write letters to and op-eds about Walmart, but little will change until we cease to shop there, for example. So what statement would I be making to move my tax dollars from a state where human rights are recognized, to one where they are not? 
One of the enduring and comforting visuals of my growing up is an apple orchard frequented by south-siders. In the winter months they sell preserves from the old house and a beautiful stone fireplace blazes during business hours, heating the tiny store. This is one of the ways I think of Indiana. Unfortunately though, this image of a welcoming hearth has been marred by the fact that not all are truly welcome. 


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