After bringing up a gay marriage ban every year since 2004, Republicans controlling both legislative chambers in Indiana are working toward writing the state’s gay marriage ban into the state constitution, with final legislative approval to a 2014 ballot measure looking likely to pass early next year.
The measure, proposed by Republican Rep. Eric Turner and known as House Joint Resolution 6, would mean the state cannot recognize any other union but heterosexual marriage. Crucially this time, the ban also has the support of at least a handful of Democratic lawmakers. The ban has already gained the approval of the Legislature once, but must again be passed by both the House and the Senate before it can be put to the ballot.
This is the kind of ban that North Carolina enshrined in its constitution in May of 2012 that prohibits all marriage-like unions, and one that because it is so very broad seems overtly hostile not just to marriage equality supporters but really the basic civil rights of gay people — and that’s where the marriage equality battle’s lines are being drawn.
While the Indiana Legislature has been doubling down on its discriminatory treatment of gay people, it hasn’t really bothered about the opinions of the people it will be asking to codify this discrimination at the 2014 ballot. It seems legislators have just taken for granted that the amendment will pass.
A few years ago that might have been a safe assumption. After all, ballot questions banning gay marriage have a long history of success that, apart from a minor blip early on, was only recently broken in 2012 when Minnesota rejected a marriage equality ban and then, just months later, the Legislature passed a bill legalizing gay marriage in the state. There is cause to think, though, that the Republican-led effort in Indiana may face a significant challenge because, simply, the general public isn’t behind it.
According to a poll by WISH-TV and Ball State University, the results of which were released on Thursday November 14, only 38% of respondents support the marriage amendment, while in total 58% oppose it.
A majority of Democratic voters in the state oppose the amendment, at around 77%, while Republicans are polling at about 40% opposed. True, the poll also found around an even split when it came to whether gay people should be allowed to marry, with a total of 48% in favor and 46% opposed, but that doesn’t necessarily matter: the key figure here is the significant opposition to writing the state’s existing ban on same-sex marriage into the constitution. There are other polls showing similar levels of opposition to the amendment, too.
This shouldn’t be taken as a reason to relax or assume the battle is already won. Quite the contrary, the poll results would seem to suggest there is still a pressing need for voter outreach and education to ensure that these early polls of small population sizes (in this case, of around 600 likely voters) translate into actual votes at the ballot.
Yet, these polls aren’t the only bit of encouragement. A group of at least four universities, among them Ball State, have passed resolutions against the amendment. Indeed, Indiana University has gone so far as to throw its weight behind Freedom Indiana, the group campaigning against the ban.
“Equality, compassion and respect for individuals have long been the bedrock of Indiana University’s educational mission, and the lack of tolerance implicit in HJR6 runs counters to IU’s deeply held values,” IU President Michael A. McRobbie is quoted as saying in a press release. “We are proud to join the Freedom Indiana coalition and, in doing so, stand with some of Indiana’s most respected employers and organizations on the side of fairness.”
Indeed, Indiana University is joined by a number of large businesses and business groups in opposing the amendment, including Cummins Inc., and the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce. Pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly also opposes the amendment, as does shopping center heavyweight Simon Malls.
What all this adds up to is a key showdown in 2014 that will give marriage equality supporters a chance to test their resolve and see if they can keep Indiana from writing discrimination into its constitution. This might not be a chance at legalizing marriage equality but, as we saw in Minnesota, the religious conservative push to marginalize the LGBT community can backfire spectacularly, and this may be the demonstration of support that Indiana, and crucially surrounding states like Ohio, need to feel secure in trying for marriage equality laws in the near future.
There’s also another facet to the 2014 battle. If the bipartisan effort to codify the state’s ban on marriage equality does fail, it would be a massive blow to groups like the National Organization for Marriage who, in the face of so-called “liberal” states legalizing marriage equality, have continually offered that conservative areas like Indiana still support the “traditional” view of marriage.
A loss at the Indiana ballot for foes of marriage equality, and in a state anti-gay groups once considered a stronghold, would send a powerful message and, ultimately, would represent a quiet landmark for the marriage equality movement.
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