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Group administers Indiana federally-funded marriage program while leading push for anti-gay marriage amendment

Image has not been found. URL: http://images.americanindependent.com/2010/07/MahurinReligion_Thumb.jpgThe anti-gay, politically influential Christian organization the Indiana Family Institute (IFI) has been endorsed by the State of Indiana as “collaborative partner” in administering the state’s federally funded Healthy Marriage program since 2008. This arrangement provides IFI with federal support through the Indiana Department of Child Services through 2013.

The group, a state affiliate of Colorado-based Focus on the Family that has been the leading political force behind the anti-same sex marriage amendment –- House Joint Resolution 6 (HJR6) — that passed the Indiana Senate this week, got a $50,000 grant from a subsidiary of U.S. Department of Health and Human Services called the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) in 2005.

Church-state watchdogs and civil rights advocates say direct federal funding of the Indiana Family Institute, coupled with its partnership with the Indiana Department of Child Services, is troubling because of IFI’s intimate political involvement with and activism surrounding the launch and passage of HJR6.

Rob Boston, senior policy analyst at Americans United for Separation of Church and State told The American Independent it was the first time that he’d seen such an official partnership between a right-wing Christian organization and a state government entity.

The Indiana Healthy Marriage program is funded through 2013 under a provision in the Social Security Act called a Section 1115 Waiver. Waivers allow states to expand typical parameters for Medicaid spending from actual health care to experimental and pilot programs like Healthy Marriage or Fatherhood Initiatives.

As part of Indiana DCS Healthy Marriage Initiative, the Indiana Family Institute provides regular couples workshops through their Hoosier Commitment: TWOgether program. Workshops are offered free of charge to singles and couples.

The American Independent submitted questions to Ann Houseworth, communications director for the Indiana Department of Child Services, about the possible impropriety of an official relationship between the state and the overtly religious, anti-gay and politically active Indiana Family Institute. And, because the IFI’s recent tax returns were filed with a 990EZ which doesn’t require breaking out government grants from overall grants — The American Independent asked for details about the amount of tax-payer funding passed through the Indiana Department of Child Services to the IFI.

After initially responding via email that she would provide answers to The American Independent, Houseworth replied days later, “I will unfortunately be unable to obtain the information you requested. I should not have indicated we could provide this information before I knew we could do so.”

Houseworth did not respond to requests for clarification, except to say she was working on collecting financial information regarding the DCS partnership with IFI. She had no information at the time of publication.

Although the Indiana Family Institute’s relationship with the state is unique, the connection between these types of groups and politics is not. Boston said, “Unfortunately, this kind of relationship,” between Christian conservative groups, politics, and their receipt of federal funding “is par for the course.”

In addition to receiving direct federal funding and partnering with the state, Indiana Family Institute was slated to received third-party money as a partner of the Gary-based Abstinence for Singles (AFS) program supported by a federal Community Based Abstinence Education grant awarded yearly in the amount of $960,000 running from 2006 to 2011.

However, Abstinence for Singles was defunded (PDF) in 2008 after failing to properly organize as a non-profit 501(c)3 organization, a requirement to receive funding. It is unclear if the federal government recovered any funds as a result. Nor is it clear -– as AFS no longer exists -– whether or how much funding was passed through to the Indiana Family Institute.

The Indiana Family Institute is a 501(c)3 that also formed a PAC called Indiana Family Action. Although registered in different physical location — IFI in Indianapolis and the PAC in Zionsville — both entities appear to share office space and employees. According to a past Iowa Independent investigation, this type of organizational overlap can lend itself to federal money awarded to the 501(c)3 inevitably benefiting the partnering PAC.

The Indiana Marriage Amendment

The Indiana marriage amendment passed the Senate Judiciary Committee last week and passed in the Republican heavy Senate Tuesday by a 40 – 10 vote. The amendment now must pass again in 2013 or 2014 before it could be added to a 2014 ballot and be put to popular vote. If it were to pass a 2014 ballot initiative the amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman would be added to the Indiana Constitution.

The reintroduction of the anti-same sex marriage amendment was announced by its legislative co-sponsors, Republican state Reps. Eric Turner and Dave Cheatham, at an Indiana Family Institute event in 2009. Republican Dennis Kruse sponsored the successful HJR 6 bill in the Senate 2011 session. Kruse is currently listed as an advisor for the Indiana Family Institute.

“They [IFI] absolutely are the driving force behind it – the amendment – they worked very, very hard to get not moderate Republicans into office and to introduce this legislation,” said Lori Morris, President of the Indiana Stonewall Democrats during a phone interview with the Independent. Stonewall is a PAC that works to elect LGBT persons to local and national office as well as support gay-rights legislation across the country and at the state level.

Morris talked about the far reaching impact IFI has on anti-gay legislation, as well as public opinion, in Indiana, “of course they have had a huge impact on LGBT issues here, every article, I mean every article, that someone reads in the papers have the Indiana Family Institute’s commentary in it.”

Deep Political Connections in and out of Indiana

The Indiana Family Institute has deep political ties beyond Indiana. The group’s president, Curt Smith, worked in Washington D.C. for 15 years as press secretary, campaign manager, communications director, state director, and chief of staff for U.S. Sen. Dan Coats and U.S. Rep. John Hostettler.

In the mid-1990s, Coats introduced a group of bills known as the Project for American Renewal. This initiative is described on the Dan Coats for Indiana Senate as “a comprehensive initiative aimed at shifting power and funding from Washington directly to local, faith-based and non-profit groups which are successfully working to resolve many of the Nation’s social problems.”

Smith is also connected to U.S. Rep. Mike Pence. Pence is cited on IFI’s website as a “founding congressional sponsor” of the group’s One America Hoosier Congressional Policy Leadership Series program. The program, according to IFI’s website “offers leadership skills training and an in-depth look at today’s hot topics in the public and private sectors. With special “who’s who” speakers and a trip to Washington, D.C., the goal of the series is to prepare and connect like-minded leaders to be servants in their communities.”

Smith touts attending a Butler University basketball game in Indianapolis with Rep. Pence, posting a photo of him, Pence and Sen. Coats on the IFI blog standing courtside at the game.

While working closely with IFI while it gets federal funding, Pence has been at the forefront of the nationwide effort to defund Planned Parenthood based on erroneous claims that the women’s health provider uses federal funds to perform abortions.

In addition to its role in launching the anti-gay marriage amendment, the IFI also is opposed to hate crime legislation that would protect LGBT persons, calling the effort “the brain-child of activists hoping to promote homosexuality, bisexuality and gender identity disorder.” Smith also spoke at a National Organization for Marriage “Summer for Marriage: One Man One Woman” bus tour stop in Indiana in 2010.

The Indiana Family Institute is not the only state affiliate of Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council that has received federal funding.

In South Carolina, the Palmetto Family Council was awarded $1.2 million through Healthy Marriage and Abstinence Only grants from 2004 to 2009. According to its blog, the “top priority” for the group in 2006 was South Carolina’s anti-gay marriage amendment. Palmetto’s president, Oran Smith, condemned public funding of a gay and lesbian group’s annual statewide festival, citing concerns about using “public funds for a festival that is political or indecent or both.”

The Iowa Family Policy Center (IFPC) received more than $3 million in federal funds to pay for a marriage-mentoring program. The program, called Marriage Matters, was found not to be a third-party contractor but rather a trademark of the outspoken anti-gay group. IFPC has garnered headlines for its opposition to same-sex marriage, including public allegations that homosexuality poses a greater public health risk than second-hand smoke. IFPC recently changed its name to The Family Leader and is now a major player in Iowa politics.

An email to the Indiana Family Institute regarding its official relationship with the state and amount of federal funding per year wasn’t returned. Calls to the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration and the Region V Healthy Marriage Specialist, Dianna Durham to clarify the level of funding through the Section 1115 Waiver were not returned.

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