By Maureen Hayden
CNHI Statehouse Bureau
The Indiana Legislature appears to be marching toward a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, but a coalition of business leaders, health care providers and social organizations are hoping to convince lawmakers they’re out of step with public sentiment.
The group includes some of Indiana’s most prominent employers, who have testified in the past against such a constitutional ban by arguing it harms the state’s reputation and makes it more difficult for them to recruit and retain talent.
They’re meeting this summer to talk about how to carry that message forward in the months before the Legislature votes on whether to send the amendment issue on to the public for a referendum vote in 2014.
“We need to broaden the conversation,” said Carey Likens, CEO of Citizens Energy Group, a utilities provider in central Indiana. “We think there is a need for a thoughtful dialogue among all the stakeholders in the state on this issue.”
Likens is on the list of business leaders who oppose amending the state’s constitution to include a same-sex marriage prohibition, which is already law in Indiana. Officials from some of the state’s biggest employers, including pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and engine maker Cummins Inc., have testified against it, urging the Indiana General Assembly to stop the process that would put the issue to a public vote.
Those pleas have fallen on deaf ears in the past. But now opponents of the amendment see a glimmer of hope: This spring, the state Republican Party removed the same-sex marriage ban from its party platform and the state Democratic Party, for the first time, came out against it.
“We think people’s views are evolving on this issue,” said Greg Kueterman, an Eli Lilly spokesman.
There may be some evidence of that; some recent national polls show a shift in attitude on the issue of same-sex unions, with more Americans favoring some kind of legal recognition for same-sex couples.
But amendment backers are doubtful the Indiana Legislature will see it that way. Micah Clark, head of the American Family Association of Indiana, said both Republican and Democratic lawmakers who previously voted to support the amendment view it as a moral issue and would be seen as flip-flopping if they came out against it now.
“It’s a high hurdle to get people to change their minds,” Clark said.
Clark also noted that both the Democratic candidate for governor, former House Speaker John Gregg, and the Republican candidate, U.S. Rep. Mike Pence, both favor the ban on same-sex marriage and would be expected to keep their campaign promises.
The Legislature has to clear the way for the state constitution to be amended. Lawmakers took the first step in 2011, when the Republican-controlled Legislature — with help from some Democrats — voted to support a resolution that defined marriage as between one man and one woman. A second vote, after the next election, has to be taken before it would go to a statewide referendum, giving voters the final say on whether to amend the constitution.
That public vote could come no sooner than 2014 — enough time, some ban opponents say, to convince voters that amending the state’s constitution to include the ban is a bad idea.
Dr. William Buffie, an Indianapolis physician who has a family member who is gay, has been pushing the state’s medical association and other groups to put some pressure on legislators to change their minds and oppose the amendment.
“Ultimately, I do think you can change people’s hearts and minds on this issue,” Buffie said.
Clark, of the American Family Association, disagrees. “It’s like abortion,” Clark said. “The issue is so polarized. I don’t think you can change people’s minds on this.”
Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for the CNHI newspapers in Indiana. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.