News From Terre Haute, Indiana

November 23, 2013

General Assembly faces turning tide in amendment battle

Constitution change faces Legislature, possible ballot referendum; wording motivates opposition

Howard Greninger
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Amid battling polls and wording that some legislators see as cause for concern, Indiana’s General Assembly is poised to vote a second time to amend the state’s constitution to ban same-sex marriage when the 2014 session starts in January.

Indiana passed a law in 1997 forbidding same-sex marriage, but beginning in 2004, there has been an annual effort to put an amendment banning such marriages into the state’s constitution. The idea gained approval in 2011 from the General Assembly.

The process to amend the state constitution requires that two consecutive, separately elected Legislatures pass a measure, which then goes before voters in the form of a statewide referendum. If approved by the Legislature early next year, the same-sex marriage ban amendment will be on the ballot in November 2014.

A defeat in the General Assembly or a change in the wording of the amendment would put it back to square one in the process.

Times change, as do views and, sometimes, votes

If the amendment proposal does move forward, it will do so without the support of two Terre Haute legislators, both of whom originally supported the measure, but who now say they have changed their minds.

“The reason I have changed my mind is because times have changed: More and more of my constituents are opposed to putting a same-sex marriage ban into the constitution, and that will reflect in my vote,” said Rep. Clyde Kersey, D-43.

“The problem with this is it will not change the gay marriage law at all. We have a law that same-sex couples cannot get married in the State of Indiana,” Kersey said.

State Sen. Tim Skinner, D-38, also plans to reverse his 2011 vote.

“I don’t intend to support this if it does comes forward this year,” Skinner said. “I think there is more information available now than there was the last time this thing came around. I think there were a lot of people who had an initial reaction to say ‘yes,’ this is a good thing, without really taking a look at the issue.”

Kersey also voiced concern over a second sentence in the amendment, one that restricts the rights of civil unions of same-sex couples, possibly in violation of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which provides for equal protection of the law.

In addition, Kersey said passage of the amendment proposal would make it difficult for future lawmakers to repeal the existing state law.

“My position is that what we are doing is making a decision for future legislatures. Times are changing,” he said, adding that when Indiana passed a law against same sex marriages, there were no states that allowed it. “But, it may be that a future legislature might want to repeal that law. What I think we need to think about is we shouldn’t be making a decision for a future legislature … and we should not put this amendment into the [state] constitution,” Kersey said.

“Society changes,” Skinner said. “I think this issue has been talked about across the country, not just in the State of Indiana. It is something that Indiana doesn’t need, and I don’t intend to support it,” he said.

“I think the way that most Democrats feel right now is that we got a lot of things that we really need to do,” Skinner said, such as addressing Indiana’s high unemployment rate, as one example. “This is nothing more than a distraction. I don’t see that it will be good for anybody to bring this thing forward.”

Yet, Skinner believes that allowing Hoosier voters to decide the issue may be a good thing.

“I honestly think if that becomes the case, I don’t think it will pass,” Skinner said. “I don’t think people will support it generally. I think we have evolved just enough, our attitudes have changed just enough and are more accepting of people as people. I think it is an issue that will create a lot of emotion. I think if it does go to the ballot, people in general now will reject it.”

On the other side of the aisle…

Two Republican state representatives — Bob Heaton of Terre Haute and Alan Morrison of Terre Haute — say they will vote in favor of the same-sex marriage ban amendment.

Heaton, who represents House District 46, voted for the amendment the first time it was introduced, in 2011, and he said he plans to do so again. It is an issue, he said, that should be decided by Hoosier voters.

“I supported it the first time. My take is to allow the people come next fall to decide,” Heaton said. “If it passes the House and Senate in this upcoming session, then the people can vote on it as it will be on the ballot. Let them decide, is what it boils down to.”

Morrison, also of Terre Haute, said he “most certainly will vote yes on a resolution” to put the amendment before voters. He indicated that he will support the amendment “because I firmly believe that marriage is one man and one woman.”

“This has been discussed for almost a decade. I think [House] Speaker [Rep. Brian] Bosma said it best that this should not be decided by a president at an institution or by a CEO in a board room, but by Hoosiers. I think the best option is to put it on a referendum, on the ballot, and let the people of Indiana decide,” Morrison said.

Both legislators say they are already hearing from Hoosiers.

Heaton said his is receiving emails and letters from constituents, who are encouraging him to support the measure, while lobby groups, such as Freedom Indiana, are urging him to reject the amendment.

“Three years ago, there was nothing really said about it. There are more protesters this time, and I respect that and their opinion,” Heaton said, predicting an early session vote on the issue.

Morrison also believes the measure will be dealt with early on.

“I would think this would be something that we would not let linger too long; this is not an issue that should dominate the discussion of the session,” he said. “For me, it is a no-brainer. Marriage is a man and woman. There is not a lot of argument to be had. We have other issues, such as how do we figure out how to lower our unemployment rate and close that skill gap, and how can we make schools safer,” he said.

Morrison said he has received emails and mailings on both sides of the issue. He said that earlier this week, on Organization Day at the Indiana Statehouse, he received 30 to 40 letters from people opposing the amendment.

“But when I walk the [House] district [42] and I knock on doors and when I go to forums, people support the platform I ran on, which one of the steps I ran on is marriage,” Morrison said. “I received a tremendous amount of support throughout the district on that,” he said.

Morrison said defining marriage as one man and one woman is important. “Some people want to change the definition of marriage from what it is now, one man and one woman, to people of the same gender. That seems like a huge step,” he said.

“There are over 30 states that have it in their constitution defining marriage as one man and one woman, as we are attempting to do,” Morrison said. “I certainly do not believe it to be a tolerance issue. This issue has nothing to with tolerance or intolerance for homosexuality. What it has to do with is defining marriage … I certainly have no problem with two people of the same gender living together. Ultimately, the state of Indiana, and the people who live here, have the right to determine what are social and cultural norms and where we draw that line. That is what we are ultimately giving the people of this state to say once and for all, this is the line.

“Whatever people do on the other side of the line is fine, but legally, the State of Indiana will recognize this. I don’t think that there is anything wrong with the state having the right to do that,” Morrison said.

Opinions can vary from person to person, and state to state

There are 33 states that ban same-sex marriages, 16 states plus the District of Columbia that allow it, and one state — New Mexico — with no law, according to ProCon.org, a nonprofit public charity. Illinois is the most-recent state to legalize same-sex marriage; the law takes effect June 1, 2014.

Indiana is one of four states that ban same-sex marriages by law, while 26 other states ban same-sex marriage by both state law and constitutional amendment. Another three states ban same-sex marriage by a state constitutional amendment only.

The issue in Indiana has become a battle of dueling polls:

• A WISH-TV/Ball State University Hoosier Survey showed 58 percent of Hoosier adults oppose the idea of a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. The independent poll, through Princeton Survey Research Associates, was conducted Oct. 8-21 of 600 Hoosier adults who made a complete interview, through landline and cell phones. The poll’s margin of error is plus or minus 4.8 percent.

That poll also showed Hoosiers are not yet ready to legalize same-sex marriage, with 48 percent supporting legalizing same-sex marriage and 46 percent opposed, a statistical tie, as 6 percent have no opinion.

• Freedom Indiana, an anti-referendum group, has a poll showing 64 percent oppose amending the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage. The poll, conducted Sept. 17-19 by Bellwether Research for Freedom, was of 800 registered voters reached by landline and cell phones. That poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percent.

That same poll states a concern in the second sentence of the proposed amendment, which would also ban same-sex civil unions. Poll results showed three-fourths of those surveyed believe there should be some legal recognition or rights for gay and lesbian couples.

• The Indiana Family Institute, a pro-referendum group, in a survey conducted by WPA Opinion Research Sept. 24-25 of 504 likely Hoosier voters, found 62 percent of surveyed support a constitutional amendment. The telephone survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percent.

Gov. Mike Pence has stated, because of competing polls, he thinks the issue should go before voters.

In response, Freedom Indiana, at the General Assembly’s Organization Day last week, joined with Interfaith Coalition on Non-Discrimination to send a letter, signed by 300 faith leaders statewide, to lawmakers, opposing an amendment.

Several universities and some corporations also have gone on record against the constitutional ban. Universities include Indiana University, Ball State University, DePauw University and Wabash College. The faculty senate at Purdue University recently approved its own resolution to show opposition to a constitutional ban. Indiana State University, which has not yet taken an official position, is studying the issue.

“Our governance units — Faculty Senate, Staff Council and Student Government Association — have been considering this issue for the past few weeks. We anticipate that these groups will convey their formal responses to the president before the semester ends,” said Teresa Exline, chief of staff for ISU President Dan Bradley.

Eli Lilly and Cummings are two large corporations that have gone on record against the ban, an opinion shared by Indianapolis City Council and the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce.

However, the Indiana Chamber of Commerce is determined not to take a position on the issue.

“The Indiana Chamber has no position. Extensive discussions have taken place among our policy committee and executive committee members with no consensus,” said Kevin Brinegar, president and CEO of the state Chamber. “These discussions have reflected the passionate viewpoints on both sides of the issue.”

The issue could pass quickly through the General Assembly, where Republicans hold a super majority in both the state House and Senate. “I do expect that if the topic is addressed by the General Assembly, it will happen early in the session and be resolved quickly,” Brinegar said.

Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at 812-231-4204 or howard. greninger@tribstar.com.