Despite pressure from Republicans’ social conservative flank to act now, lawmakers will wait until next year to vote on whether to write a same-sex marriage prohibition into Indiana’s constitution.
Republican leaders said Thursday that they will not vote on the proposed amendment this year and will wait until next year instead because they want to see how the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the issue this summer. Then they’ll know if Indiana’s proposed amendment – which also bans civil unions or anything like them – can go forward as it’s currently drafted.
It was a decision supported by an “overwhelming” majority of the party’s members, said state Senate President David Long, R-Fort Wayne. He announced the one-year delay alongside House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis.
“It seems prudent for us to wait, given that the possibility exists the Supreme Court could find ours, as well as many other statutes throughout the country and constitutional amendments, unconstitutional,” Long said.
Technically, it doesn’t matter. Whether lawmakers approved the amendment this year or next, it would go on the 2014 ballot for final approval.
But the decision carries political consequences.
“We have 320 days to convince legislators to be on our side,” said Rick Sutton, the executive director of Indiana Equality Action.
Despite the delay, Long and Bosma said they support the amendment and believe it will ultimately be approved. As long as the Supreme Court’s ruling is favorable, the measure “has the wind at its back next year,” Bosma said.
He said it “is still supported by a majority of Hoosiers, significantly. That’s my statistical analysis of it, and it’s proven to be correct in the past.”
However, two recent publicly-released polls show a rapid shift.
A recent Howey/DePauw Indiana Battleground Poll found that 45 percent of likely Hoosier voters would support such a constitutional amendment, while 43 percent would oppose it.
A Ball State University survey, meanwhile, found that just 38 percent of Hoosiers – the entire population, rather than likely voters – support a constitutional ban of same-sex marriages and civil unions.
The portion of the amendment that bans not just same-sex marriage but any legal recognition of gay couples’ relationships has caused some Republican lawmakers and businesses the most consternation.
Even Bosma said that portion is the most controversial, though he said it doesn’t change his mind about the amendment overall.
“I may not agree with every word in it,” Bosma said, “and if I were sitting down to draft it on a fresh piece of paper I might draft it a little differently, but, you know, we are where we are with it.”
Both Long and Bosma acknowledged that some Republicans who supported the amendment in 2011, as well as some newly-elected members, would oppose it now.
“Like the general public, some legislators that supported it in 2011 are having second thoughts about it and re-examining the issue,” Bosma said, adding that a “handful” of veteran Republicans might switch their votes and “some of the new folks” might oppose it, too.
“When you look at younger peoples’ views of this versus people of middle age and older, there are different perspectives on it,” Long said. “That’s something that we all realize.”
Gay rights advocates called the delay a win – even if a minor one – because they say the more time they can buy, the better their odds become.
“A delay is by no means a win, but we believe we are headed in a better direction,” Sutton said.
He said Indiana Equality Action has worked for seven months on a public relations campaign to try to defeat the amendment in the General Assembly or, if necessary, at the ballot box in 2014.
It’s also being opposed by Columbus-based engine maker Cummins, Inc., Indianapolis drug-maker Eli Lilly and Company and other businesses who say a same-sex marriage ban would harm their efforts to attract top out-of-state talent to Indiana.
The Republican-dominated General Assembly took the first step toward writing a same-sex marriage ban into Indiana’s constitution in 2011, when the proposed amendment easily passed the House and the Senate.
If lawmakers once again approve the exact same measure either this year or next year, then the amendment would go on the November 2014 ballot and voters would get the final say through a statewide referendum.