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February 10, 2013

Maureen Hayden column: Gov. Pence tight-lipped on social issues

As a U.S. congressman, Mike Pence made it perfectly clear how he felt about the need for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.

He was a sponsor and advocate for the failed Federal Marriage Amendment, arguing that the U.S. Constitution needed to define marriage as between a man and woman to protect the nation from “activist judges” willing to tear away at the fabric of society. (The fabric being the “traditional” family.)

In 2011, Pence was one of 82 House Republicans to co-sponsor a bill condemning the Obama administration’s decision to discontinue defending the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

Known as DOMA, it’s a federal law that refuses federal benefits to same-sex couples who are legally married. DOMA’s constitutionality is being challenged in a case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

As a gubernatorial candidate last year, Pence declared his support for the effort to amend Indiana’s state constitution to lock in a ban against same-sex marriage and civil unions.

But last week, Gov. Pence stayed deep in the background when GOP leaders in the Statehouse decided to ignore the strong pleas of amendment proponents by stalling a vote that would have moved the measure forward this year.  

Their reasoning: It would be prudent to wait to see how the U.S. Supreme Court rules this summer on two related cases involving same-sex marriage bans.

When questioned about Pence’s role in the decision to kill the vote this session, Senate President David Long told reporters: “The governor has not weighed in on this.”

Echoed House Speaker Brian Bosma: “Not in the least.”

That may seem surprising. Some of Pence’s strongest allies in the fight against same-sex marriage (including the American Family Association) have been pushing hard for Indiana lawmakers to vote on the amendment this session.

They argued that such a vote would send a strong message to the Supreme Court justices and affect their decision.  

That’s an argument that Long and Bosma, both self-proclaimed supporters of the amendment, discounted as “not credible.”

Pence may believe, as Long and Bosma reasoned, that waiting another year wouldn’t matter. If the court clears the way, the Indiana General Assembly could vote on the amendment in 2014 and — as required by Indiana law — put the question to voters on the November 2014 ballot.

For now, Pence has set aside his past role as advocate for the social conservative causes, and is trying to remake his image.

He’s sticking with the script he rolled out during the campaign: talking about his tax-cut proposal and his jobs- and education-focused “Roadmap for Indiana.” He’s resisted veering off that roadmap, despite efforts by reporters to draw him out on other issues.

During an informal meeting with Statehouse reporters last week, Pence made clear he won’t be weighing in any time soon on a number of issues: There’s a broad range of legislation he “won’t have anything to say about”, he said, until it reaches his desk, for the required signature to become law — or the veto to kill it.  

Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for the CNHI newspapers in Indiana. She can be reached at maureen.hayden@indianamediagroup.com

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