News and Tribune

February 18, 2014

BEAM: All we need is just a little patience

Local columnist

— Americans like to have clear winners and losers. Few of us like a tie. Yeah, it sounds good and all to declare everyone a champion. But when you get down to it, leaving a battle without a clear victor is just not satisfying.

People on both sides of the same-sex marriage debate felt unfulfilled Monday with the Indiana Senate’s 32-17 passage of amended House Joint Resolution 3, legislation that would have allowed citizens to vote on defining a marriage as being between a man and a woman in the state constitution.

Now the final passage of that amendment has been ultimately postponed for at least two years when another separately elected General Assembly must approve it. In other words, we’re once again in a holding pattern.

And at present that might be the best thing that could happen.

Hear me out. Change comes slow to Indiana. That can be both good and bad. Everyone knows we’re a conservative state, the image that turns red immediately on the computer maps during election-night reporting. So no one should have expected a complete turnabout on the same-sex marriage debate. Long term moral beliefs are hard to relinquish, no matter how hard advocates try to persuade them otherwise.

But that doesn’t mean, over time, change can’t occur.

Look at the statistics. Support for same sex marriage continues to grow in public opinions polls. Only a year ago, the Bowen Center for Public Affairs at Ball State University and WISH-TV released survey results showing that 45 percent of those asked supported gay marriage, while an even 45 percent opposed it. Many elected officials have begun to either take notice of their constituents’ altered attitudes or have changed their views on gay marriage themselves.

In 2011, the legislation passed the House by an overwhelming vote of 70-26. In the Senate, the initial measure was approved by an even wider margin of 40 to 10. This time around, fewer legislators in both assemblies voted for the measure (57-40 in the House and 32-17 in the Senate). Although not enough to defeat the measure, that’s still an impressive shift. Think what two more years will bring.

Of course, public opinion might not ever matter. Just like with interracial marriage, a Supreme Court decision could legalize gay marriage across America.

Court cases questioning the constitutionality of similar same sex marriage bans in other states continue to advance in the legal system. Only last week, a federal judge ruled that the Commonwealth of Kentucky must recognize same-sex marriages from other states, like Iowa or New Hampshire, that have legalized it. The same week, a federal court in Virginia struck down the state’s ban on gay marriage. More than 20 more cases are currently in the federal court system. Legal experts predict one of these might come before the Supreme Court as early as next year.

Senate President Pro-Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, seemed well aware of these legal hurdles. In a Feb. 14, 2014, Associated Press article by Tom LoBianco, Long admitted as much.

“In reality, I think the issue is going to be before the United States Supreme Court — as I’ve said before — and it’s either going to be a state’s rights issue, and each state decides for itself, or it’s going to be decided by the Supreme Court that it’s a violation of the 14th Amendment,” Long said.

“One way or another, they’re going to have the final say in this, because the U.S. Constitution trumps a state constitution.”

Between 2000 and 2001, I worked as a communications specialist for the Indiana Senate Republican caucus. Long always has impressed me with his intelligence and integrity. Democrats during Monday’s session praised the senator for his handling of this legislation, despite some of them disagreeing with his stance. And while I’m an advocate for gay marriage, I respect his candor and his reasoning. At this moment, he did the best he could.

Still, despite HJR-3 remaining in limbo for a while in Indiana, the war isn’t close to being over. If the U.S. Supreme Court rules gay marriage legal, waiting might have been the best strategy after all.