Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

November 15, 2013

DAVE BANGERT: Lawmakers not ready to fold on gay marriage ban

It should be up to voters, they say.


Kokomo Tribune

---- — So much has been made about how Purdue University fits in with a proposed amendment that would stamp a same-sex marriage ban into the Indiana Constitution.

What will President Mitch Daniels do? What won’t he do? And as other schools follow the lead of Indiana University President Michael McRobbie — who aligned the Bloomington campus with a growing anti-amendment movement — will Purdue’s agnostic silence become increasingly uncomfortable?

The Daniels/Purdue angle is a juicy one, for sure.

But no matter how many universities (IU, Wabash and DePauw so far), how many city councils (the Indianapolis City-County Council was the latest, on Monday) and how many businesses line up against House Joint Resolution 6, the next move really belongs to 150 people in the Indiana House and Senate.

And to hear Sen. Brandt Hershman, a Buck Creek Republican who has been instrumental in guiding the same-sex marriage question to a public referendum, tell it, the more people line up to protest, the more reason there is to keep going.

For Hershman, there’s a careful and necessary parsing of the question facing the General Assembly when lawmakers show up at the Statehouse in January.

“The question I had is, is this an issue of social significance to the degree that it merits the public to weigh in on it? And I believe it is,” Hershman said. “If you look at the level of discussion and controversy it has generated, I would say that’s the case. ...

“I will happily abide by whatever decision the general public makes. And I think the increased discussion that has occurred on this is a very healthy thing. I will say, my personal views on the matter aren’t nearly as important to me as allowing the public to speak their piece.”

Hershman, who represents much of the Lafayette area, carried a similar measure in 2008. It died when Democrats in the Indiana House refused to let it out of committee.

Hershman said his concern was that the legality of gay marriage was being settled in courts instead of through legislative means. Indiana has a law that defines marriage as being between one man and one woman. But Hershman said he saw a more fundamental argument being made in the courts.

“Those who have suggested that gay marriage is a fundamental right speak to it in constitutional terms,” Hershman said. “This isn’t something we made up. It’s been an evolving discussion, even at the Supreme Court levels, that this is a fundamental right. It puts it squarely in the context of our constitution.”

Hershman’s view — let the people decide — has become a landing zone for lawmakers as attitudes shift under their feet since they voted overwhelmingly in favor of the constitutional referendum in 2011.

The Indiana House voted 70-26 and the Indiana Senate voted 40-10 to advance the question in 2011. If approved by the General Assembly again in 2014, the question will be on the Indiana ballot next November.

“How would I vote on the referendum? That’s a personal issue between me and the ballot box,” said Rep. Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville. “My political position, as far as the resolution, is to let the people decide.”

Rep. Sheila Klinker, D-Lafayette, was one of 36 lawmakers to vote no on HJR-6 in 2011. She said she can feel some momentum from Freedom Indiana — the leading anti-amendment coalition in the state — and its allies. She talked about polls that show Hoosiers aren’t as willing to put limits on marriage as they were even two years ago. And she mentioned some changing views in the Statehouse, including those of Rep. Sean Eberhart, a Shelbyville Republican. Eberhart reversed course last week and said he’d vote against the measure in 2014. (“It is flat-out wrong,” Eberhart told The Shelbyville News. “This issue has changed.”)

But she predicted the same-sex marriage ban will wind up on the ballot in November 2014. Those 70-26 and 40-10 margins are just too wide.

“I think probably many of the folks who maybe don’t want to vote on it are going to use the reasoning — I won’t say the excuse, but the reasoning — that [let’s] let the people vote on it,” Klinker said. “And then, see, they don’t have to say one way or the other. ... It’s very convenient.”

Hershman said he’s watched how public sentiment has changed in polling since 2011.

“I don’t think it’s any foregone conclusion, whatsoever, that the measure will prevail on the general ballot,” Hershman said. “Frankly, I don’t know how I would vote [on the referendum itself] at this point. I’ve tried to separate the issue into whether it should be on the ballot versus views on the issue itself. It’s a fair question. I just don’t know.”

What Freedom Indiana has been saying, and rightfully so, is that by putting HJR-6 on the ballot, the Legislature is making a decision. As much as legislators say they aren’t playing their personal hands, they are gambling by sitting at the table, anteing up and calling for the deal.

Sounds as if legislators who started this in 2011 aren’t ready to fold quite yet.

So the coming out party of city councils and universities and businesses aimed at stopping the legislation likely is just the start of a yearlong campaign that is sure to be brutal to the state’s reputation and draining on voters.

Look for more to jump on board — maybe even Purdue — to ask: Why are we setting ourselves up for a fight Indiana doesn’t need on a measure that isn’t a foregone conclusion?

Dave Bangert is a columnist for the Journal & Courier, Lafayette. Contact him at dbangert@journalandcourier.com.