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Saturday, February 01, 2014

Ind. Gov't. - "Amendment foes use language of faith to lobby lawmakers"

Maureen Hayden, CNHI Statehouse Bureau Chief, reports in a really excellent story today, here in the Lebanon Reporter, on how religious leaders on both side of the issue are influencing the legislative vote on HJR 3. A few quotes from the long story:

In a decade since the marriage amendment was first proposed, the conventional view has held that it pits religious forces against secular proponents of marriage equality for gays and lesbians. While religious beliefs still infuse arguments for the amendment, the changing minds of voters and some legislators may be a testament to liberal and moderate clergy — and their followers — who’ve used the language of faith to counter the moral claims of amendment supporters.

“I’d go to my son’s basketball game, and I’d have folks whom I know are Christians and leaders in their churches want to sit with me and spend an entire quarter of a basketball game in a high school gym talking about this,” [State Rep. Kevin Mahan] said earlier this week. “They’d say, ‘I used to support this but now I don’t.’ I had to listen to that stuff.”

On Monday, 51 of Mahan’s colleagues, including 22 Republicans, agreed with him. Their vote left intact the ban on gay marriage, but the change in the resolution’s language to remove civil unions could delay or derail the amendment by keeping it off the November ballot. Two separately elected legislatures must approve a proposed constitutional amendment — of the exact same wording — before it goes to voters for ratification.

Shouts of “Hallelujah!” and “Thank God!” could be heard from amendment opponents in the hallway outside the House chamber after the vote. Those religious expressions weren’t just reserved for the dramatic finish. For months, arguments of morality and belief have framed both sides. * * *

“It’s a very personal issue for many people,” said the Rev. Patricia Case, a minister in the Christian Church, Disciples of Christ.

Republican state Rep. Tom Saunders came to see it that way after he was contacted by clergy in his rural district in eastern Indiana who opposed the amendment. Saunders voted for the measure in 2011, but changed his mind after seeking out counsel from his own minister last fall.

“She said the Bible says, ‘Love thy neighbor,’” said Saunders. “Well, I live in a town of about 500 people, and my neighbor and her partner are gay and they fly the rainbow flag. You can’t love your neighbor and treat them like second-class citizens.”

Curt Smith, who heads the pro-amendment Indiana Family Institute, said Freedom Indiana’s faith organizers have had an impact on the debate in the Statehouse. The rising voice of clergy in opposition to the amendment prompted Smith’s organization to create the Indiana Pastors Alliance, which claims 600 members.

“We’ve had to be more intentional about finding voices who could testify for the amendment and contact people in their House districts,” Smith said. He credited Freedom Indiana for mobilizing an effective grassroots effort. “Clearly the other side has done a good job of putting a human face to the context of what we’re talking about.”

The faith-based opposition to HJR-3 joins a vocal coalition that includes some of the state’s biggest employers, universities and mayors of cities big and small. Ball State University political scientist Andy Downs said it adds a new element that counteracts the notion that there is only one theological view on marriage.

And it gives legislators in a conservative state some political cover to question the need to amend the constitution when there is already a law on the books that bans gay marriage.

“I think they’re hearing more people of faith question the need for a constitutional amendment,” Downs said. “More and more people seem to be asking: ‘If the law already says you can’t do it, why do we need to throw another stone on the pile?’"

State Rep. Ed Clere of New Albany agrees. In 2011, he was the only Republican in the Legislature to vote against the amendment. On Monday, 13 Republicans voted against the amendment even after it was stripped of the civil union language, along with Democrats who’d voted for the amendment the last time.

“The physical presence of clergy in the Statehouse has been a major factor,” Clere said. “I don’t think it’s something that a lot of legislators expected to see. It’s certainly added a welcome dimension.”

Still, there are questions about how many more legislators amendment opponents can convert. The stripped-down resolution is headed to the more conservative Senate, which passed the amendment on a 40-10 vote in 2011.

Also available here via Howey Politics.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on February 1, 2014 05:08 PM
Posted to Indiana Government