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November 17, 2013

FLASHPOINT: Same-sex marriage battle not good for state’s future

MICHIGAN CITY — For those who can still bear to look, Indiana’s unemployment rate remains stuck above 8 percent.

This fall, Ball State University released a report on Indiana’s frighteningly suppressed individual earnings.

Our consumers’ wages are 14 years behind our fellow Americans. We beat few states outside of the Old Confederacy in per-capita income. The average Hoosier earns barely $34,000 a year from all sources.

Our nation has not done well over the last decade. Indiana has done worse.

Hoosiers yearn for a common-sense economic agenda for middle-class consumers, workers and other profit creators. So what economic issue is predetermined to dominate the next session of the Legislature?

An ugly and divisive ban on marriage equality.

Everywhere, folks are letting out a collective groan over what is to come.

Cheered on by Gov. Mike Pence, both House Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate chief David Long have pledged a vote in the 2014 session. With Republican super-majorities in both chambers, a heated statewide referendum on the topic is likely to follow. Once again, politicians will inflame their own people’s moral and philosophical differences just in time for the next election.

Make no mistake, though. The proposed ban on marriage equality is a bold economic policy — a boldly destructive one.

You see, those same Ball State researchers identified one strategy that was most likely to raise our per-capita income and overall quality of life: Retain and recruit high-income workers.

“To reduce the income gap between the state and the nation, Indiana must focus on both retaining many more high-income Hoosiers and attracting many more affluent households,” declared the report.

Instead, state leaders are already telling the world that talented and productive gay citizens are not quite welcome in Indiana. Eli Lilly, Cummins, our hospitals and our universities must sheepishly explain to proudly brilliant workers why Indiana winces at their presence.

There are more negatives, of course. But forget the embarrassment of Indiana straining against Americans’ growing acceptance of their fellow citizens. Or that the proposed same-sex marriage ban is poorly crafted and fraught with unintended consequences. Or that it will short-circuit energy away from what truly ails us.

The amendment is no longer just about cultural disagreements. If enshrined in our state’s highest document, it will become our latest economic failure.

As of now, there is little encouragement that the legislative super-majorities will exercise restraint. Although now more circumspect, Speaker Bosma once called it “the most critical piece of the people’s business” and is ready to vote.

Pence has been clear he wants the measure on the 2014 ballot. Long plainly announced, “I fully anticipate both the Senate and House will be voting on the amendment next session.”

Rank-and-file lawmakers also must remain on guard for unhappy social conservatives. Hesitant Republicans have to quake at potential primary challenges.

The good news is, although my friends across the aisle may be stuck, the voters can still save them.

And as moderates, independents and libertarian Republicans reflect on what is best for Indiana’s economic future, I suspect they may well rescue the Legislature from itself. Which will be a favor to all of us.

— State Rep. Scott Pelath

Indiana House of Representatives

Democratic Leader

Michigan City

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