IBJOpinion

MAHERN: A marriage game plan for Republicans

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Louis MahernAlthough they don’t all have a natural sense of rhythm, and a few of them are always laughing and carrying on, some of my best friends are Republicans.

It pains me to see how they have painted themselves into a corner on same-sex marriage.

Sure, it worked in 2004 when Karl Rove convinced the Ohio Legislature among others to put it on the ballot in order to gin up turnout among rural fundamentalist Christians. For years, Indiana Republicans made hay out of the fact that House Democrats wouldn’t allow a vote. Beating up on same-sex marriage seemed to work election after election.

Just when Republican legislators thought they could surf this issue once or twice more, the world has turned upside down. Some of their closest allies and funders in the business community have gone south on them and come out against House Joint Resolution 6, which would enshrine the statutory prohibition against same-sex marriage in the Indiana Constitution.

Legislative Republicans remind me of a runner caught off base between first and second. Not only are they going to be out, but in a most embarrassing way.

However, there is a way out of this pickle. Business and university opposition to the proposed amendment mentions the second sentence of the amendment and the threat it poses to same-sex benefits currently offered in the private sector.

As the well-informed IBJ reader is probably aware, the constitutional amendatory process requires the proposed amendment pass two legislative sessions with an intervening election with exactly the same wording.

Should the amendment pass this upcoming session, the referendum will be on the ballot in November.

Given recent actions of the U.S. Supreme Court, most observers believe it is only a matter of time before the court rules that state statutes and constitutional prohibitions of gay marriage are contrary to the U.S. Constitution.

In 1967, the court ruled in the appropriately named Loving v. Virginia that anti interracial marriage prohibitions were unconstitutional. Shamefully, Indiana had such a law on the books. When the General Assembly next met, they quietly repealed the offending statute.

If HJR 6 is enshrined in our Constitution and the U.S. Supreme Court rules as expected, how then will the Legislature “quietly” amend out the offensive language with the requisite two intervening sessions and referendum? Or will it leave the language stand as mute testimony to Indiana’s less-than-tolerant heritage?

GOP leaders have the perfect opportunity to have it both ways. They can satisfy their corporate paymasters by amending HJR 6 to take out the second sentence, which threatens some current private-sector practices. They can satisfy their primary-voting fundamentalists by continuing to oppose same-sex marriage with a “new and improved” constitutional amendment.

But the biggest advantage to the GOP is such an amendment to the amendment would allow them to reset the clock and push the referendum out to 2016. As it stands, if the General Assembly passes HJR 6 in its current form, the good people of Indiana will vote on the proposal in less than a year. No doubt public opinion is changing fast on this issue, but is it changing fast enough in Indiana?

Do Senate Pro Tem David Long and House Speaker Brian Bosma really want to chance the Legislature’s folding and not taking a vote? Or in an even more far-fetched scenario, the Legislature defeats HJR 6 in a roll call vote?

Do we really want to take a chance on a referendum in a relatively low-turnout, non-presidential year of 2014?•

__________

Mahern has been an assistant to U.S. Rep. Andy Jacobs and U.S. Sen. Birch Bayh and served in the Indiana Senate. Send comments on this column to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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