At our state's signature annual event — the Indianapolis 500 — where we present ourselves to a worldwide audience, the actor Jim Nabors sings the words that are so dear to many of us: “Back home again, in Indiana ... .”
The irony here is that Nabors is not only gay, but last January he and his longtime partner Stan Cadwallader traveled to Seattle where they tied the knot. Here in Indiana, they would have few legal rights afforded traditionally married couples.
I bring this up in light of Wednesday's U.S. Supreme Court rulings that knocked down the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, and punted a challenge to California's Proposition 8 back to a lower court. In doing so, the high court did essentially two things. It opened up federal rights for domestic partners to do things other married couples do, like filing joint taxes and maintaining property, deathbed and inheritance rights.
It also preserved the right of states to define marriage.
The reaction here is the reestablishment of a battle we will have in 2014, which is to place in the state constitution the definition of marriage as between one man and one woman. Indiana already has a law on the books that makes gay marriage illegal.
Gov. Mike Pence and Republican legislative leaders, including House Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate President Pro Tem David Long, are signaling their intent to pass for a second time this constitutional amendment, which then goes on the November 2014 ballot for voters to decide.
Pence said, “I am confident that Hoosiers will reaffirm our commitment to traditional marriage and will consider this important question with civility and respect for the values and dignity of all of the people of our state. I look forward to supporting efforts by members of the Indiana General Assembly to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot for voter consideration next year.”
Long said he would instruct his legal staff and experts to “conduct a thorough analysis” of the case. Attorney General Greg Zoeller will as well. “I fully anticipate that both the Senate and House will be voting on a marriage amendment next session,” Long predicted.
House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, sees it as branding the state's constitution with “inequality,” creating a “blemish on Indiana history.”
Several have suggested such a constitutional amendment will put the state at odds with the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
In 2011, before Indiana Republicans took super majorities in both chambers, the House backed the gay marriage ban 70-26 with 14 Democrats voting with the majority, and it passed the Senate 40-10, with four Democrats joining the majority.
So the chances of this ending up on the November 2014 ballot are pretty good.
Will voters pass it, as the Governor expects them to do?
In modern politics, few issues have shifted as dramatically as gay marriage. In a May national Pew Research Poll, 51 percent backed same-sex marriage, up from 32 percent in 2003.
In the April Howey Politics Indiana Poll conducted by Republican pollster Christine Matthews, 50 percent supported the constitutional amendment and 46 percent opposed. In the October 2012 Howey/DePauw Indiana Battleground Poll, 48 percent backed the amendment and 45 percent were against.
In the April poll, independent voters were split, with 44 percent backing the amendment and 42 percent opposed, compared to 37/53 percent for Democrats and 57/37 percent for Republicans. But among younger and older Republicans, cross tabulations show that those 18 to 44 years old favored the amendment 52/43 percent, compared to those 45 and over who favored it 60 to 33 percent.
So the movement on the issue is fluid, even among Hoosier Republicans.
It underscored a conversation I had with conservative State Sen. Brent Waltz, R-Greenwood, who vowed to vote for the amendment, but added, “We're probably on the wrong side of history.”
To me the obvious compromise here would be to accord Hoosier gay couples with domestic partnership rights. But there is great resistance to this in Republican legislative circles, leaving themselves open to charges of bigotry and exposed on the basic notion of fairness.
The other aspect is, our state's jobless rate is above 8 percent and has been for more than four years. In the fight over Right to Work a couple years ago, the mantra was we have to do whatever possible to attract jobs.
But Indiana's biggest corporations like Eli Lilly and Cummins view this amendment as an obstacle to hiring the best and brightest.
Beyond the banks of the Wabash and the new mown hay, we face so many profound and festering issues, and we're about to plunge into one of the most divisive.
— The columnist publishes at www.howeypolitics.com. Find him on Twitter @hwypol