No slam dunk — political observers say marriage amendment proposal has uncertain prospects
The political and cultural landscape is much different today than it was just three years ago in 2011, and that bodes against easy passage of the proposal to amend the Indiana Constitution to ban same-sex marriages.
To be sure, the shifting political winds hardly mean the proposal, House Joint Resolution 3, or HJR 3, is dead in the water. But political observers also say it’s no sure thing that the amendment will ultimately be enshrined in the Constitution either.
In 2011, when Indiana lawmakers first approved the proposal now up for debate again as part of the drawn-out amendment process, “it looked like it would be a slam dunk,” Purdue University political scientist James McCann said Monday, Jan. 13. The proposal that year, House Joint Resolution 6, passed 40-10 in the Senate and 70-26 in the House.
This year McCann wonders if state lawmakers will even give the proposal a second round of support, as the amendment process requires, so the question can be put to voters as a ballot question in November. Whether lawmakers approve HJR 3 remains “an open question. Up until very recently, you would say of course,” said McCann.
Joe Losco, chairman of the Ball State University political science department, suspects HJR 3 — focus of an Indiana House Judiciary Committee hearing Monday — will ultimately get the nod from Indiana lawmakers. But beyond that, he’s not so sure.
If the question goes to voters — whether to change Indiana’s Constitution to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman, ruling out same-sex marriages — it becomes a battle to mobilize voters. “Who gets the people to the polls?” Losco said.
Churches are good at mobilizing voters and older, conservative people are generally motivated to vote, which would potentially bode in favor of the amendment. By contrast, younger people — generally more supportive of gay rights issues — aren’t as reliable Election Day participants, Losco said.
One thing’s for sure, though. If the question does go on the November ballot, expect a flood of outside funding, national attention and television ads from amendment proponents and foes working to get their messages out, said Sean Savage, a political scientist at St. Mary’s College. For same-sex marriage proponents, Savage said, defeat of the proposal would be a “huge victory,” coming in a state that tends to be conservative and Republican.
“I think we’re in for a mighty battle in the fall if and when this goes to voters,” said Losco.
MILLENNIALS, OBAMA, COURT RULINGS
Several things factor in the apparent shift toward more open views of gay marriage.
The demographic generally more tolerant on such issues — millennials, those born roughly between the early 1980s and early 2000s — is increasingly coming of age politically, Losco said.
President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden coming out in support of gay marriage in 2012 helped as well. “That sent a signal that it was OK to be on that side of the issue for a mainstream politician,” he said.
Finally, Losco cited a pair of U.S. Supreme Court rulings from last June seen as big victories for same-sex marriage proponents.
“There’s been a really swift movement in public opinion, not only in Indiana, but across the nation,” Losco said.
Polling numbers released last November by Ball State’s Bowen Center for Public Affairs and WISH-TV in Indianapolis show 48 percent of Hoosiers favor legalizing gay marriage, with 46 percent opposing it. Even more respondents, 58 percent, expressed opposition to amending the Indiana Constitution to prohibit gay marriage, while 38 percent expressed support.
As for the Indiana lawmakers who will ultimately determine whether the issue goes to voters, the debate seems to be centered in the ranks of Republicans.
Some GOP Indiana lawmakers up for election this year may be attentive to potential backlash from conservative constituents opposed to same-sex marriage, Savage said. They don’t want to vote against HJR 3 and unexpectedly face a primary opponent or lose support in the general election.
On the other hand, many GOP-leaning businesses and business groups have come out against the constitutional amendment, worried it will brand Indiana as unwelcoming and harm efforts across the state to recruit capable workers.
Follow reporter Tim Vandenack on Twitter at @timvandenack.