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Opinions

February 5, 2014

THEIR OPINION — For Feb. 5

Recent editorials published in Indiana newspapers. Distributed by The Associated Press.

Senate should not listen to governor on HJR-3

HJR-3, the bill that as originally written would amend the Indiana Constitution to ban same-sex marriage and civil unions, continues to divide Hoosiers and monopolize time at the Statehouse.

Unfortunately, Gov. Mike Pence helped ensure that will continue with comments he made to an Indianapolis television station last week.

The Indiana House of Representatives appeared to tamp down the fire of the debate when it voted last week in favor of an amended bill that deleted a sentence that stated: “A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized.”

Thus, the House version no longer pertains to civil unions and alleviated the fears of opponents that the amendment also would threaten domestic partner benefits that are offered now in recognition of the commitment couples have made to each other.

The House change, if approved by the Senate as well, would restart the clock on amending the constitution and put off a potential vote on the matter until 2016.

But last week, the governor said he would favor the amendment as originally written. That would give the people of Indiana the ability to vote on the same-sex marriage question in November 2014. He was clear to say he realizes the decision is up to the General Assembly, and not him, but equally clear he wanted this issue to move forward quickly. He implied voting on the issue would settle it once and for all.

He couldn’t be more wrong.

The House didn’t go far enough. If legislators want to settle this issue, they should drop the idea of amending the Constitution for this purpose all together. But the action the House took was a reasonable step that acknowledges the growing legitimacy and acceptance of same-sex partnerships.

A state law already defines marriage as between one man and one woman. This current batch of lawmakers should not be trying to build in a constitutional amendment to solidify what’s in place to make it harder for a future legislature to change the law.

This persistence in wanting a constitutional amendment is based on fear that a majority of Hoosiers might soon want to do just that — change the law. Poll after poll shows more acceptance of same-sex marriage, with a generation of 18-to-34-year-olds overwhelmingly favoring giving the same rights to marry that heterosexuals enjoy to gay men and lesbians.

Even delaying a public vote on the matter is a threat to the ideology of the right, because the chances of even conservative Indiana rejecting the amendment will be greater in two years than they are now.

And as we’ve noted before, legislators abandon representative democracy with their intent to let the voters decide to block some from having a particular right through a constitutional amendment. These elected leaders should lead. They shouldn’t send Hoosier voters to the polls hoping they’ll say the Indiana Constitution should favor the majority and not treat all people equally.

Gov. Pence is wrong on this issue. Senators should side with their colleagues in the House, at least, and mitigate the damage that could be caused by HJR-3, as well as delay a potential ballot question and all of the divisive campaigning that will accompany such a question.

— The Herald-Times, Bloomington

Sources of journalists need to be protected

Openness in government is at the core of democracy, and a free and responsible press helps ensure that openness.

To expose matters that officials and bureaucrats would rather be kept hidden, reporters sometimes must use unnamed sources to protect whistle-blowers from losing their jobs. But currently there is no federal law that protects the journalists from being compelled to reveal those sources.

The Free Flow of Information Act would offer that protection, and the bill is under consideration by the full Senate. Action is likely early in the current session. We urge Sens. Dan Coats and Joe Donnelly to vote for it.

The Free Flow of Information Act (S. 987) would allow journalists to protect the identities of their confidential sources in federal court. The proposal has strong bipartisan support. In September, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed the bill by a 13-5 vote. The bill, sponsored by Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has 20 co-sponsors from both parties.

The Department of Justice put confidential sources at risk by secretly obtaining the communications records of reporters from The Associated Press and Fox News. This overreach by the department has had a chilling effect on communications between reporters and sources. AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt said, “Some of our long-trusted sources have become nervous and anxious about talking to us, even on stories that aren’t about national security. In some cases, government employees that we once checked in with regularly will no longer speak to us by phone and some are reluctant to meet in person.”

The bill would establish clear and reasonable rules for when the government and others can seek information from journalists and their service providers that could compromise confidential sources. An independent federal judge would review all information requests to journalists and their service providers to prevent government overreach and to protect the public’s right to know.

The bill is not a free pass for the press. It creates a qualified, not absolute, privilege. There are exceptions to the privilege, including a national security exception that allows the government to obtain information to prevent an act of terrorism or other harm to national security.

The bill would apply to the vast majority of people who do journalism regardless of medium or technology and includes a safety valve that gives federal judges the discretion to protect the source of someone who does not fit precisely into the definition of “covered journalist.”

We urge our Hoosier senators to support this bill. It will help us fulfill our role as a government watchdog and, more importantly, keep the public informed.

— The Tribune, Seymour

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