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EDITORIAL: GOP should ditch outdated anti-gay marriage plank

April 16, 2016

Indiana Republicans could take a step to open their party to a younger and more progressive audience and strengthen their political future by dropping a party position that marriage should be defined as the union of a man and woman.

The move would not be particularly bold, given that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that same-sex marriage is legal in Indiana and every other state in the nation. From a policy perspective, dropping the provision from the Indiana Republican Party platform would simply be an acknowledgement that the issue is settled.

But politically, the change could serve as an invitation for many otherwise conservative Hoosiers—those who are far more comfortable with LGBT issues—to return to the party without feeling they have compromised their beliefs.

And those voters are important. Many are involved in the tech community. They are people with money and influence. And others are young voters, whom the party will need if it is to continue to be successful into the future.

There’s support for a platform change. A committee holding public hearings has heard repeatedly from advocates who support dropping the plank. New Albany City Councilman Dave Barksdale told the committee his sister is gay and that she and her partner were married last year.

“Both individuals contribute greatly to our community,” the News and Tribune quoted Barksdale saying. “Between them, they have four wonderful children that are very much loved in this quote-unquote nontraditional family.”

Former Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard told the committee in Greenwood that the party stands for less government and should not endorse limiting marriage.

Some Republicans want the party to go even further. According to TheStatehouseFile.com, Indianapolis city-county councilor Michael McQuillen said the party’s platform should say “strong families are the foundations of society” and that “everyone should have equal rights.”

It’s unlikely Republicans will endorse adding protections for LGBT Hoosiers to the state’s civil rights law, although we think it would be a productive move. A debate is still raging within the party about how to balance religious liberty with LGBT rights, and it’s one that will likely need more time to be resolved.

But gay marriage is now legal. There’s no reason for Republicans to continue to risk alienating a wide group of voters by keeping an anti-gay marriage plank in its platform.

Still, it won’t be surprising if there’s no change. Indiana Republican Chairman Jeff Cardwell has already faced criticism for putting several leaders who oppose gay marriage on the committee. Among them is the committee’s chairman, Rep. Eric Koch, R-Bedford, who voted for unsuccessful constitutional proposals to ban gay marriage.

Koch is leading the hearings. In New Albany, he told the News and Tribune the debate is part of determining a party’s priorities. “It’s the kind of discussion that a family has when there’s a disagreement within a family,” he told the newspaper. “You usually sit at a kitchen table around a living room and talk through it, and that’s what this process is about.”

Republicans should focus those discussions on what’s ahead, not on an issue already settled by the courts.•

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To comment on this editorial, write to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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