Marriage equality for Hoosiers

By Allen Hutson

Legislators in my home state of Indiana are pushing for a constitutional amendment that would ban any form of same-sex union. The bill known as HRJ-3 passed both houses of the Indiana General Assembly in 2011. To amend the constitution both houses must vote on the bill this session, and then it is sent as a referendum to the voters in November. The amendment is simple, far-reaching and dangerous:

only marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Indiana. Provides that a legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized…

As Matt noted over the weekend, the Indiana House Judiciary Committee planned to vote on HJR-3 Monday, but after four hours of testimony the vote was delayed. On Tuesday, Indiana’s Republican Governor Mike Pence threw his support behind the amendment during the state of the state address. Now Speaker of the House Brian Bosma is attempting to shuffle committee members to remove Republicans who apparently no longer support the amendment.

As a Hoosier, I have always felt that social conservatives play a significant role in putting Indiana in the “strong Republican” category — but at what cost? In the 2012 Senate election Indiana’s Republican Party threw out Senator Richard Lugar for Richard Murdoch with disastrous and embarrassing results. If the bill winds its way into the Indiana Constitution, the consequences will make the Murdoch embarrassment seem trivial. HJR-3 isn’t just bad policy, it’s bad politics.

How can a bill that drew such vast support in 2011 be bad politics? First off, support by legislators and support from the public is entirely different. While the Republican controlled legislature agreed on HJR-3 (in 2011, it was HJR-6), a majority of Hoosiers have a more nuanced view. A November 2013 poll (pdf) showed Hoosiers do not support gay marriage, but they draw a distinction between a ban on same sex unions and the proposed constitutional amendment. Most Indianans think the amendment goes too far.

Moreover banning same sex marriage doesn’t play well for Indiana’s GOP in the long run. According to the same poll 18-24 year old Hoosiers strongly support same-sex marriage. It is not hard to imagine a strong backlash in Indiana. In 2008, the state turned blue for then candidate Obama. Democrats such as Evan Bayh and Frank O’Bannon easily won statewide elections in the 1990s and 2000s. I’m afraid that Indiana’s social conservatives in the General Assembly may win the battle, but the war is over.  The only question now is whether Indiana’s GOP will focus on Republican principles or push the state away from the Republican Party.

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