So much for being governor of all the people of Indiana.
Earlier this month, not long after the House of Representatives voted to strip the controversial second sentence out of House Joint Resolution 3—the proposed state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage—Gov. Mike Pence told WISH-TV Channel 8 that he supported the HJR 3 in its original form.
That is, with the second sentence saying Indiana won’t recognize or consider valid any civil union, domestic partnership or other kind of social contract designed to protect and acknowledge same-sex committed relationships.
Pence’s stance on HJR 3 contradicted his inaugural address last year, when he said: “I am eager to be the governor of all the people of Indiana—young and old, city and country, rich and poor.”
It also undercuts the governor’s often-reiterated pledge that his focus would be on “jobs, jobs, jobs.”
Hoosiers who oppose HJR 3—including the business leaders adamantly opposed to the second sentence because they argue it will make it harder for them to recruit and retain skilled employees—may have difficulty believing Pence meant what he said.
Pence is in a box.
The last thing the governor wants is to have the debate over HJR 3 continue beyond this year. If the altered version of the measure is the one that goes forward, that would mean HJR 3 wouldn’t go on the ballot in 2014.
Instead, the earliest the measure could go on the ballot would be 2016—when Pence presumably will be running for re-election. If Hoosiers end up voting on HJR 3 in 2016, that will mean businesses in other organizations will pour millions of dollars into the state to defeat a measure that Pence will be supporting.
That’s not a comforting thought for a Republican governor who won his office with less than 50 percent of the vote the first time around. The business community never has been completely convinced that their priorities are his priorities. His support of HJR 3 in its original form is likely to reinforce those doubts.
But Pence’s base—social conservatives—see this issue as their Gettysburg, the spot where the outcome of the political civil war over social issues will be won or lost.
Social conservatives in large part put Pence in Congress and made him governor. For him to abandon them now, when the issue about which they care most is front and center, would be to risk alienating his staunchest supporters.
Did Pence have to put himself in this box?
Pence could have challenged his base to think again about that second part of the proposed amendment. He could have said that it not only troubled business and bothered many moderates who otherwise likely would be lining up to support HJR 3, but it undercut the message that proponents of the measure have advanced.
The champions of HJR 3 say the proposed amendment is not anti-gay but pro-family and pro-children. If that’s true—and the evidence suggests that most advocates for HJR 3 sincerely believe that families and children are imperiled—why would the measure’s champions attempt to make it impossible for same-sex or other non-traditional couples ever to find a way to provide legal protections for their children and their families?
To challenge his supporters to think more carefully would have required foresight and, yes, courage on Pence’s part.
So much for being governor of all the people of Indiana.•
Krull directs Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, hosts the news program “No Limits” on WFYI-FM 90.1, and is executive director of The Statehouse File. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.