By MAUREEN HAYDEN
CNHI Statehouse Bureau
INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana’s Democratic leaders in the Statehouse called for their Republican counterparts to pull the controversial same-sex marriage ban amendment off the legislative table, urging them to focus their energies instead on education, the economy and jobs.
House Minority Leader Scott Pelath said GOP leaders should stop the measure in its tracks by refusing to assign the resolution to a committee when the General Assembly convenes in early January for the 2014 session.
Pelath said Republicans, who have a super-majority in the Legislature, should be working to address critical issues such as the state’s unemployment rate, which has been stuck around 8 percent.
“Unfortunately, what is already dominating the 2014 session is this ugly and divisive debate on marriage equality. It has to stop, and it has to stop today,” Pelath said.
The Michigan City Democrat was joined in the call to kill the resolution by Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane at a news conference today, as the General Assembly’s official Organization Day was under way.
“It would be the courageous thing for us to do,” Lanane said.
But the pressure is on Republican leaders to keep the measure alive. Indiana already has a ban on same-sex marriage, but Republican Gov. Mike Pence and social conservative organizations that have contributed heavily to GOP candidates argue that the law needs to be expanded to include a ban on civil union and locked in the constitution.
Both Lanane and Pelath acknowledged the politics of pulling the measure, House Joint Resolution 6, might be risky for GOP leaders, because it would alienate their socially conservative base.
Pelath said he had sympathy for House Speaker Brian Bosma, who has caucus members who fear they may be “primaried” — targeted for defeat by a fellow Republican in the next election — if they oppose HJR-6.
“I’m with him in understanding the difficulty of the issue,” Pelath said. When Democrats controlled the House, Pelath said he moved to kill HJR-6 three times.
“I did it and lived to tell about it,” Pelath said. “He can do it and live to tell about it, too.”
GOP leaders are also under increasing pressure from the business community, higher education leaders and some religious leaders who argue that HJR-6 harms Indiana’s “Hoosier Hospitality” image, especially with young people and outsiders.
For their part, Republican leaders have acknowledged recent independent polls that show increasing opposition to measure, but say they won’t dictate to their members how to vote.
On Monday, at a legislative preview sponsored by the Indiana General Assembly, Bosma said he expects HJR-6 to be introduced during the session and proceed like any other bill.
Both Bosma and Long said the issue is not a top priority in either chamber but also noted how highly charged the matter will be.
“We have to deal with the issue with dignity and respect for opposing viewpoints. We can’t call people bigots or sinners or whatever,” Bosma said.
Maureen Hayden is the Indiana Statehouse bureau chief for CNHI, the parent company of the Tribune-Star. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.