Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

January 26, 2014

Settling gay marriage debate?

By Scott Smith
Tribune columnist

---- — With HJR3, the gay marriage amend-ment, moving toward Republican super-majorities in the House and Senate of the Indiana General Assembly, the likelihood of the measure going before Indiana voters in November has increased substantially.

Both sides say they can win, citing recent polls. Every poll, however, has its bias. Ask someone if they’re against abortion, and they’ll probably answer yes. Ask the same person if they’re in favor of criminal penalties against women who seek abortions and against doctors who provide them, and the percentage of “yes” answers drops precipitously.

Democrats tend to be against the measure, while Republicans, who form a seemingly permanent majority in this state, are showing signs of division.

This week, Howard County Republican Party Chairman Craig Dunn had an insightful column for Howey Politics Indiana, revisiting the history behind the evolution of HJR3. (Read it here: http://bit.ly/LZzvZf)

The idea that state Republicans created a monster (Dunn more politely calls it a “tiger”) back in 2010, by using marriage and abortion to mobilize social conservatives, has more than a bit of truth to it. Then-House minority leader Brian Bosma repeatedly criticized former House Speaker Pat Bauer for refusing to give the gay marriage amendment a hearing.

Bauer’s refusal to hear the bill didn’t save then-State Rep. Ron Herrell from a heavy defeat, and the next year, Bosma quickly passed the resolution, with quite a few Democrats voting in favor of it.

Once and for all

Politics turn on a pendulum, and the tide has certainly started to swing back toward opponents of HJR3, but will it turn quickly enough?

Gov. Mike Pence wants the debate settled “once and for all,” but that’s only likely to happen if HJR3 is defeated. If it fails to make the November ballot, state Republicans, who had a hard time even getting it out of committee, would be unlikely to resurrect it.

If it passes, and Indiana becomes the 30th state to ban same-sex marriage in its constitution, opponents of the measure are unlikely to sit idly by as more and more states around Indiana allow gay marriage.

There are only four states which ban gay marriage by law, but don’t have a ban in their state constitution. Of those four — Indiana, Wyoming, Pennsylvania and West Virginia — Indiana could be the last one with a plurality willing to enact a constitutional ban. Legislation aimed at a constitutional ban has been repeatedly voted down in each of those other states in recent years, and Indiana is effectively the last red state without a constitutional ban.

So if Indiana’s citizens enact a constitutional ban, Indiana will likely be the last state to do so.

Dunn, who opposes the constitutional ban on libertarian grounds, says couples should be free to enter into binding contracts, protected by law, rather than hindered by it.

The second sentence of HJR3, which states “that a legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized,” is a sticking point for many otherwise conservative Republicans, Dunn said.

“There are sizeable numbers of Republicans that don’t really believe that this is the thing to do. Not that I’m saying they think marriage is anything but between one man and one woman,” Dunn said.

Dunn also doesn’t believe the gay marriage debate in Indiana will drag on for decades.

“If it’s defeated, it’s done forever. If it passes with the second sentence intact, I believe it will be overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Find Scott Smith on Twitter@JasonSSmith1. His email is scott.smith@kokomotribune.com.