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Same-sex marriage supporters see hope in deeply conservative Indiana

Friday, December 20, 2013
Indiana

Darron Cummings, AP
Indiana lawmakers will decide whether to ask voters to amend the constitution to ban same-sex marriage when they reconvene in January.

INDIANAPOLIS — In one of the most conservative states in the nation, supporters of same-sex marriage are pondering the unthinkable: a victory, or at least not a loss.

A proposal to amend Indiana’s constitution to ban same-sex marriage has sparked a flurry of phone banks and appeals to big-money donors as the state prepares to become a 2014 battleground on an issue that has largely been decided in other states.

Indiana is one of just four states that ban gay marriage in statute only; 29 others have constitutional bans. But none of the other states with statutory bans – Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Wyoming – face the pressure in place in Indiana, where lawmakers must approve a proposed ban and send it to voters in November unless they want to restart the process from scratch.

That the issue’s fate is even in question is remarkable in Indiana, which in recent years has become a model of conservative causes ranging from school vouchers to rig ht to work. In 2011, state lawmakers overwhelmingly voted in favor of the amendment in the first of two required votes, and with Republican supermajorities in both legislative chambers, its final passage seemed a slam-dunk.

But the tides have shifted. Voters in Maryland, Maine and Washington have approved gay marriage, and polls have shown increasing numbers of Indiana voters oppose a constitutional ban even though most still oppose gay marriage.

“Everyone else in the country is moving toward more equality. Indiana is kind of the last stand of folks that are trying to put something like this into their constitution,” said Megan Robertson, a veteran Indiana Republican operative tapped to manage Freedom Indiana, a bipartisan coalition working to block the ban.

Darron Cummings, APCarla Peck holds a sticker as she registers during the announcement of the new group, called Freedom Indiana in Indianapolis.

Darron Cummings, AP
Carla Peck holds a sticker as she registers during the announcement of the new group, called Freedom Indiana in Indianapolis.

Opponents have argued for years that the constitutional ban is unnecessary and will paint the state as intolerant and hurt businesses’ efforts to recruit top talent. They’re especially concerned about a provision in the proposed amendment that also bans civil unions and employee benefits for same-sex couples.

Volunteers with Freedom Indiana are staffing nightly phone banks and calling lawmakers who supported the amendment the first time in hopes of changing their minds before the Legislature reconvenes next month. Top companies including drugmaker Eli Lilly & Co. and engine-maker Cummins Inc. have contributed $100,000 each to the campaign. And a recent fundraiser featuring Mary Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney who has been a vocal supporter of same-sex marriage, was sponsored by some of the state’s top GOP money men, including the campaign finance chairman for Republican Gov. Mike Pence.

Phil Cooper, a 63-year-old retired bus driver from Bloomington whose adult daughter has sometimes identified as a lesbian, said he has been making phone calls for Freedom Indiana two to three times each week since September.

“It really, really troubles me to see her being singled out because of that single characteristic,” he said of his daughter.

He said he is “cautiously optimistic” about blocking the amendment and said getting more information out about its effects, including the ban on employer benefits for same-sex pairs, has helped turn the momentum.

At least two lawmakers who voted for the amendment in 2011 have said they will oppose it next year. Senate Appropriations Chairman Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, said last year that placing the ban in the constitution would not be a “productive” use of time for state lawmakers. And state Rep. Sean Eberhart, R-Shelbyville, told The Shelbyville News last month that he made a mistake in supporting the amendment last time and “to put that amendment in the constitution and to lock down generations with bigotry is wrong.”

Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said he still supports the marriage ban but has been listening to his two sons, w ho oppose the measure. And while House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, says he expects a vote by lawmakers on the issue next year, he notably left the issue out of the House Republican Caucus’ 2014 legislative agenda.

Supporters of the amendment, who have distributed fliers about the issue to churches, contend a constitutional ban would prevent future lawmakers from changing the law. They say Freedom Indiana’s business argument is a scare tactic and point to reports showing top job growth coming mostly in states that already have constitutional bans on gay marriage.

Even if national attitudes on the issue have changed, they say, Indiana residents still firmly oppose gay marriage and should be allowed to weigh in.

“The future of marriage belongs in the hands of voters,” said Micah Clark, executive director of American Family Association of Indiana.

Pence, who is well-known for his social and religious conservatism, says he supports traditional mar riage but has largely stayed on the sidelines.

The outcome of the debate could hinge on which side winds up with the most clout: the fledgling Freedom Indiana group, with the weight – and money – of corporate Indiana behind it, or the supporters, who have decades of lobbying experience among them and deep ties in the Statehouse to trade on.

“We don’t have a half-million dollars to pour into this, like the other side does,” Clark acknowledged.

The pressure Indiana Republicans feel makes sense, given that they likely face the most peril in how the issue plays out.

If the amendment fails in the Legislature, incumbent Republicans could face the wrath of conservatives in the May primaries. And if the issue makes it to the ballot, it has the potential to rev up the Democratic base in November’s general election in a way that could ripple up and down the ticket.

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30 more reader comments:

  1. “deeply conservative Indiana!” …. wtf … gay/lesbian Americans are free from you crap, keep trying!

    Posted on Friday, December 20, 2013 at 8:58pm
  2. All of the individuals, businesses, churches, cities, mayors and schools coming out in support of Freedom Indiana are giving me so much hope for and pride in my Indiana. I’ve lived here my entire life. Politicians come and go, but I and my fellow GLBTQ Hoosiers and our allies carry a piece of Indiana in our hearts for life. It’s my greatest hope that this will open the door to the question of, “If we think constitutionally banning equal marriage is wrong, then why aren’t we fighting for equal marriage wholly?”. Indiana has it’s moments in the progressive sun, albeit few and far between, but we have a life changing opportunity on our hands to show that Indiana isn’t the deep-red cesspool where anything resembling liberal goes to die. This is my home, not Mike Pence’s soapbox, and I’m going to stand my ground with everyone else on the right side of history and fight for what’s right.

    Posted on Friday, December 20, 2013 at 8:59pm
  3. Same here. Come on Indiana, Love=Love. God loves everyone.

    Replied on Friday, December 20, 2013 at 10:27pm
  4. You ARE aware there is a ban on anything but one man one woman marriage already in the Indiana Constitution, aren't you?

    Replied on Friday, December 20, 2013 at 11:02pm
  5. Not IN the Constitution. Indiana has law on the books that says marriage is between a man and a woman. They have been fighting to put it into the constitution for several years. This is a crucial year.

    Replied on Friday, December 20, 2013 at 11:09pm
  6. Terry not for long..Did you miss that UTAH has passed Marriage Equality and New Mexico the day before, Its happening,We are up to 18 states ! If you are not sure why we have added 16 states since 2008, google Edie Windsor. This is because of her.

    Replied on Saturday, December 21, 2013 at 10:59am
  7. We’re trying our best

    Posted on Friday, December 20, 2013 at 9:15pm
  8. Thats very Awesome!

    Posted on Friday, December 20, 2013 at 9:20pm
  9. Dawn Turner Sam Smith

    Posted on Friday, December 20, 2013 at 9:22pm
  10. Let Indiana be #18!

    Posted on Friday, December 20, 2013 at 9:26pm
  11. too late, that spot was taken by Utah.

    Replied on Friday, December 20, 2013 at 11:05pm
  12. That’s good very good

    Posted on Friday, December 20, 2013 at 10:01pm
  13. as a gay conservative this will not surprise me if it does become legal

    Posted on Friday, December 20, 2013 at 10:31pm
  14. Let’s get Indiana out of 1850 and into the 21st Century.

    Posted on Friday, December 20, 2013 at 10:39pm
  15. It will take more than stopping the Idjits from putting a Second ban in the Indiana Constitution to bring the state into the 20th century. Until "we" drop the Sunday carry out sales ban and the No cars sold on Sunday ban we're still going to be partying like it's 1959.

    Replied on Friday, December 20, 2013 at 11:05pm
  16. Terry a car not being sold on Sunday and a LGBT taxpaying law abiding citizen being treated like a second class citizen are not the same things

    Replied on Saturday, December 21, 2013 at 11:03am
  17. Gov Pence is a Bush/Daniels clone.

    Posted on Friday, December 20, 2013 at 10:39pm
  18. Sadly, no, he isn't. Pence is a fundy thumper and has done absolutely NOTHING in office, other than look for Photo Opportunities. We won't have to deal with him THAT long, He;s going to run for President. One can only hope he LOSES.

    Replied on Friday, December 20, 2013 at 11:07pm
  19. No hope here in redneck MO!

    Posted on Friday, December 20, 2013 at 11:19pm
  20. When hell freezes over…..lol..

    Posted on Friday, December 20, 2013 at 11:46pm
  21. I didn’t know Indiana is deeply conservative. Shame on me. I used to live in Chicago for a year and a half.

    Posted on Saturday, December 21, 2013 at 12:54am
  22. I was born and raised there, now live in Colorado. But I must say I’m happy to see this. I know fellow Hoosiers by a majority are a kind, caring and loving people. The majority of my family still live there. Making me proud Indiana!

    Posted on Saturday, December 21, 2013 at 1:38am
  23. To think I almost attended school in Indiana….what was I thinking?

    Posted on Saturday, December 21, 2013 at 1:57am
  24. I'm from Indiana. I'm ashamed to be a Hoosier.

    Replied on Saturday, December 21, 2013 at 4:22pm
  25. In between a rock and a hard place, the GOP stands to lose which ever way this goes. Ya play with fire, yer gonna get burned!

    Posted on Saturday, December 21, 2013 at 4:11am
  26. If Utah can do it.. any other state can!!

    Posted on Saturday, December 21, 2013 at 4:47am
  27. What is a “Hoosier”?

    Posted on Saturday, December 21, 2013 at 9:47am
  28. Signed:-)

    Posted on Saturday, December 21, 2013 at 10:11am
  29. That is totally amazing, I lived in Indiana for years and I am so proud of the people there. They are so compatible with new ideas and compassion. I am moving back in June and will be so proud to be a part of this great state. There is no hope for Kentucky.

    Posted on Saturday, December 21, 2013 at 1:51pm
  30. You got this Indiana! Kick the fundies while they’re down!

    Posted on Saturday, December 21, 2013 at 4:05pm