ELKHART — You have to develop a thick skin, get used to rejection.
"I'm Chad from Freedom Indiana," says Chad Crabtree, working the phones, trying to rally foes of House Joint Resolution 3, or HJR 3, the measure up for consideration by Indiana lawmakers to ban same-sex marriage. "Hello? Hello? Robert? He hung up."
But local opponents of HJR 3 remain adamant — the proposal is discriminatory and a mistake. Even if some of the people they cold-call give them the brush off, they say they'll keep at it. The stakes for them are too high.
Crabtree, for one, is gay and the issue hits close to home.
"I'm out. It's who I am," he says, taking a break from his phone calls, part of a concerted effort at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Elkhart backed by Freedom Indiana, the group spearheading anti-HJR 3 efforts statewide. "I absolutely take it personally."
Indeed, the focus of the debate on the issue may now be in Indianapolis. The full Indiana House was expected to take up consideration of HJR 3 as early as Monday, Jan. 27. Still, in places such as Elkhart, foes are keeping busy, working the phones — as Crabtree and a handful of others did one evening last week — trying to sway undecided House members.
The minister at the Unitarian church, Rev. Amy DeBeck, said Monday that local foes, all volunteers, are closely monitoring happenings in Indianapolis. The weekly phone banking here, which started last December, will continue "as required," she added.
HJR 3 calls for amending the Indiana Constitution to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman, thereby prohibiting same-sex marriage. If the Indiana House and Senate give the measure the green light, it goes to Indiana voters for final consideration as a ballot question on Nov. 4.
'PICK OUR BATTLES'
Despite Crabtree's failure with Robert, not all calls by the Elkhart contingent end with deafening silence. The Freedom Indiana volunteers call constituents in the districts of undecided Indiana lawmakers, searching for other HJR 3 foes and asking them to call their elected representatives directly to voice their opposition.
On this particular evening, the six volunteers at the Unitarian church are calling constituents in the district of State Rep. Tom Saunders, R-Lewisville, who represents Henry County and a portion of Wayne County east of Indianapolis. They're in a large meeting room at the church and there's a a crock pot full of vegetarian pasta to keep their stomachs from grumbling.
One older man Crabtree calls expresses support for the Freedom Indiana efforts. The man, it turns out, isn't upset so much with the notion of banning same-sex marriage as he is with changing the Indiana Constitution. But Crabtree will take it.
"We've got to pick our battles," he says.
Rob Van Ess, the pastor at First Congregational United Church of Christ in Elkhart, says one man he called needed little prompting.
"The guy said, 'I know why you're calling and I'm against (HJR 3), too,'" says Van Ess, still wearing his clergyman collar. Tapping the technology supplied by Freedom Indiana, he says he transferred the man to Saunders' legislative office so he could leave a message voicing his reservations on the lawmaker's answering machine.
Others on the receiving end of the calls, meanwhile, have limited interest in the matter, pro or con.
"Oh my goodness, I so hope your evening gets better," DeBeck says to one woman. After hanging up, DeBeck explains: "She said, 'I am 87 years old and my pipes are freezing and I don't know what I think about this bill.'"
On reaching backers of HJR 3, Crabtree, DeBeck, Van Ess and the other volunteers thank them for their time and move on. There's no debating, no trying to change minds.
For foes such as Crabtree and Van Ess, the HJR 3 debate isn't just about determining who can and can't marry. It goes deeper. Allowing voters to weigh in, if the question is ultimately placed on the Nov. 4 ballot, would be tantamount to giving the public leeway to formally sanction discrimination against gay people, as they see it.
"I don't think you should let the people decide on discriminatory efforts," says Crabtree.
Whatever the case, in the long, hard battle over the measure, they keep a focus on the micro level, counting their victories one at a time.
"Got one," Van Ess later says, alluding to a Saunders constituent willing to leave an anti-HJR 3 message on the lawmaker's answering machine.
"Woo hoo," answers DeBeck.