By MAUREEN HAYDEN
CNHI Statehouse Bureau
The last time the Indiana General Assembly took up the issue of putting a same-sex marriage ban into the state constitution, state Sen. Luke Kenley voted for it.
But he’s not going to make that choice again.
Noting what he called the “rapidly evolving” shift in public opinion reflected in a poll released Thursday, the influential, conservative Republican said he’ll oppose such a measure if, as expected, it comes up for debate in the 2013 session.
“I don’t think putting it in the constitution is a good idea,” said Kenley, the powerful Senate appropriations committee chairman who describes himself as a supporter of traditional marriage.
“I really value the institution of heterosexual marriage,” he said. “But I do not think that putting a statement in the [state] constitution which runs down or is bigoted toward people who have a different kind of loving relationship, that I may not understand, is going to be productive.”
Kenley weighed in on the issue Thursday during a break in a legislative preview conference in Indianapolis.
Earlier in the day, conference attendees heard the results of a new poll that shows most Hoosiers hold views like Kenley: While most aren’t ready to legalize same-sex marriage, they also don’t want to amend Indiana’s state constitution to ban it.
The 2012 Hoosier Survey poll, taken for the Bowen Center for Public Affairs at Ball State University and WISH-TV, found Indiana residents are evenly divided (45 percent for, 45 percent against) on the question of legalizing same-sex marriage. But 54 percent of those surveyed oppose changing the state’s constitution to bar gay couples from marrying, while 38 percent support it.
Ball State political scientist Joe Losco, who presented the poll results, said Kenley’s shift on the issue is significant, given his prominence in the Statehouse.
“Political scientists know when the ‘elite’ opinion starts to change in one direction, mass opinion is not far behind,” Losco said. “In a year when the president supports same-sex marriage and wins by a convincing margin, especially among young people, it’s not surprising that it has ramifications throughout the political system.”
Kenley is in no way ready to legalize same-sex marriage, which is banned by law in Indiana. But he is ready to put a stop to a process that started in 2011. That’s when the legislature voted overwhelming for a proposed constitutional amendment that bans both same-sex marriage and prohibits civil unions.
That vote was just the first step: To amend the constitution to include the ban, the legislature must vote to approve the identical language again in either the 2013 or 2014 legislative sessions, then send the issue on to voters in the 2014 general election.
Supporters of the measure included Kenley’s counterpart, Republican House budget committee chairman Rep. Tim Brown of Crawfordsville.
“On issues like this, that involve strong emotional feelings, sometimes letting citizens vote is the way to resolve it,” Brown said.
Only one Republican in the GOP-controlled General Assembly voted no on the measure during that 2011 vote: State Rep. Ed Clere of New Albany. Clere, who continues to oppose the measure for a long list of reasons, said he won’t be the only Republican to vote against it the next time.
“Clearly, a shift has occurred,” he said.
Clere said he’s been approached by state lawmakers who voted for the constitutional ban in 2011 but are now wavering in their support.
Some want to wait on the U.S. Supreme Court, which recently announced it will take up the issue, looking at both the constitutionality of a federal law that bans gay marriage and California’s decision to put a ban on same-sex marriage in that state’s constitution.
But also prompting their concern is how the issue may conflict with the Republicans’ promise to focus this next session on boosting Indiana’s economy. Several prominent Indiana-based companies — including pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and engines-maker Cummins Inc. — oppose the measure. They say it hurts the ability of Indiana businesses to recruit top talent and sends a message that the state is an intolerant place to work and live.
“We’re still recovering from a prolonged economic recession,” Clere said. “To the extent that action on the marriage amendment could have a negative impact on economic development and job creation activities, it’s the wrong time to bring it up.”