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Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Ind. Gov't. - "Indiana Finds It’s Not So Easy to Buck Gay Marriage Trend"

That is the headline to this front-page (but below the fold) story in today's Dec. 25th issue of the NY Times. Monica Davey reports the long story, dateline Indianapolis. Some quotes:

INDIANAPOLIS — Dominated by Republicans and steeped in traditional values, Indiana seemed among the least likely places to become a battleground in the nation’s debate over same-sex marriage when the legislature overwhelmingly chose in 2011 to push forward a state constitutional amendment barring gay couples from marrying.

But in the two years since, the landscape has shifted as voters, lawmakers and courts began recognizing same-sex marriage in places like Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey and New Mexico and as the United States Supreme Court declared parts of the federal Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional. In just the past few days, a federal judge struck down a ban on same-sex marriage in Utah, home of the Mormon Church, and a federal appeals court rejected a request to halt the marriages on Tuesday. A federal judge in Ohio found that same-sex marriages should be recognized on death certificates.

So suddenly Indiana, where lawmakers in the coming weeks are expected to call for the second vote needed to put a ban before voters in the fall elections, is now in a far more tense, unpredictable and closely watched spot than anyone here had imagined — a test case in whether a state will impose new limits on same-sex marriage in this fast-moving political and legal environment. * * *

As lawmakers prepare to return for a new legislative session in January, it is an especially awkward spot for Republicans, who dominate both chambers of the General Assembly. With an election year ahead and the risk of primaries in May, the issue is pitting socially conservative groups, who are urging a constitutional ban, against sometime allies in the state’s business community, who say a ban could cause Indiana economic harm.

Few Republicans now seem eager to talk about the issue, and some legislative aides said it was not entirely certain who would formally file the legislation in January. * * *

To hear some Democrats tell it, many Republicans here would just as soon see the issue fade away, as they ponder navigating between socially conservative primary voters and a broader array of voters in a general election.

“The tables have turned on this issue, and the Republican members are at a loss about what to do about it,” said Representative Scott Pelath, the House minority leader. “They’re quaking in their boots about what will happen if they don’t pass this thing. But they’re fearful about what will happen down the road if they do.”

Indiana might well have answered this question years ago if not for complications in its process for amending the State Constitution and for shifting partisan control in the legislature. By state statute, Indiana has long barred same-sex couples from marrying. But a decade of efforts to add the measure to the Constitution were slowed by the process required here — two votes by separately elected legislatures, then a decision by voters statewide — and by roadblocks from Democrats who held a majority in the Indiana House for a stretch before 2011.

With firm Republican control of both chambers in 2011, the ban advanced with wide margins. Elections in 2012 further strengthened Republican control, giving supporters of the amendment added reason to expect easy passage a second time.

This year, Republican leaders said they would wait for the United States Supreme Court to weigh in on related issues. In June, the Supreme Court did not rule on whether such state amendments are inherently unconstitutional, though that question is now being tested in courtrooms elsewhere, in places like Utah. The question may ultimately be answered in the Supreme Court, experts said, but probably not in the matter of months Indiana lawmakers have left to decide the issue, leaving them on shifting legal ground. * * *

Complicating matters is the language of the proposed amendment itself, which opponents say goes beyond banning marriage to threatening all legal arrangements allowing rights to same-sex couples. In addition to defining marriage as between a man and a woman, Indiana’s amendment says, “A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized.”

Some lawmakers have suggested that the amendment might now be changed to drop that sentence. But there is debate over how that would affect the process. Some say a language change would essentially require starting the legislative process over, delaying a statewide vote by years. * * *

Supporters of a ban say they fully expect a successful vote by the legislature, then a decision by Indiana residents. “If the legislature doesn’t take it up, there will be many, many disappointed people,” said Curt Smith, president of the Indiana Family Institute. “Our message is, let the people decide.” * * *

“I do believe opinions are changing,” Mr. Smith said. “But they’ve not changed as much in Indiana.”

Posted by Marcia Oddi on December 25, 2013 09:29 AM
Posted to Indiana Government