Republican gubernatorial candidate Mike Pence said Friday that his plan promoting two-parent households as a means of breaking children out of poverty would be limited to married couples, meaning gay couples in Indiana would be excluded.
Pence has argued that decreasing the number of children living in poverty requires promoting marriage and "two-parent, intact households," as part of a broader policy plan he says will help strengthen Indiana's economy. Gay marriage is banned in Indiana.
"I understand the desire of some to hurry off to the fault lines of a social issues debate, but I actually think we could create a broad consensus around this where we say in effect, 'Are there ways for us in Indiana to affirm two-parent, married couples and to encourage more kids to get married, to stay married and to wait to have kids until they get married?'" Pence said.
Pressed on why same-sex couples would not meet his metrics, Pence said it's because they are not married.
"I understand it. I get it. Our focus here is on an affirmative statement about traditional, two-parent married couples," he said. Pence argued his beliefs are in keeping with previous Indiana governors, and cited former Gov. Evan Bayh, who argued that "strong families" are the best remedy for America's social ills.
The marriage debate promises to be front and center for whoever wins the governor's office in November. Indiana's law banning gay marriage was approved in 1996. Some lawmakers are pushing a measure that would allow voters to decide in 2014 whether to amend the Indiana Constitution to restrict marriage to between one man and one woman.
"I think Mike Pence needs to look at the many, many cases where same-sex couples do it well and in many cases have done it better than opposite-sex couples," said Aaron Schaler, president of the Indiana Stonewall Democrats, a group representing gay Democrats.
Rick Sutton, president of Indiana Equality, which is lobbying against placing the marriage ban in the Indiana Constitution, said he was not as concerned by Pence's position but would have a problem if Pence began using state money without including gay couples in any effort.
Pence talked about his views on family in an interview with The Associated Press on Friday, during which he also pushed for expanding Indiana's school voucher program and improving vocational education. Pence is the frontrunner in the race to replace the term-limited Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels, and his policy proposals have largely echoed those pushed by Daniels over the last eight years. His Democratic opponent is John Gregg, who also opposes gay marriage.
"I think it's time to take Indiana from reform to results," he said.
Before deciding to run for governor last year, Pence was talked up as a presidential contender among evangelicals and social conservatives looking for an alternative to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Pressed on the question Friday, Pence would not rule out a future run for the White House, saying only that he was focused on running for governor now.
"I was honored that some people mentioned me in that context some years ago, but we chose Indiana because this is where we believe we can make the most difference and it is 110 percent of our focus," he said.