Same-sex marriage supporters are hoping a federal court decision Wednesday, June 25, striking down Indiana's gay marriage ban will put an end to the fiery debate over the issue.
Instead, it may open up a whole new debate about religious liberty for churches and businesses.
Even for ardent opponents of gay marriage, the ruling raises doubts about the viability of adding a same-sex marriage ban to Indiana's constitution — a prime focus of Indiana's formidable social conservatives for nearly a decade.
With that issue in the hands of federal judges, the fight at the Statehouse could shift to legislation intended to protect business owners and churches who deny services to same-sex couples on religious grounds.
That doesn't mean social conservatives will drop the push for a constitutional amendment. But it does suggest some of their energy will likely be diverted to issues such as religious discrimination and free speech.
"If there is no way to protect marriage as the union of a man and a woman, then we must protect the freedom of conscience, thought and speech on marriage in Indiana," said Micah Clark, executive director of the American Family Association of Indiana, a group that opposes gay marriage.
Indiana has not been immune to such debates.
State lawmakers briefly entertained a proposal earlier this year would have allowed religious schools and colleges that receive state contracts to make employment decisions based on religion. That measure was slipped into an unrelated bill, but later nixed amid public outcry.
A year earlier, an Indianapolis bakery drew a firestorm of social media controversy after the owner refused to bake a cake for a gay couple on religious grounds.
And in 2010, a cookie shop at City Market faced the possibility of sanctions after its owner refused to fulfill a gay student group's request for rainbow-iced cookies. The incident prompted hundreds to protest at the city-owned market and Just Cookies later reached an agreement with the city's equal opportunity office requiring the bakery to post a "no special orders" policy.
The debate over the role religion should be allowed to play in business decisions has flared up across the nation, too.
In Arizona, the governor vetoed a measure that would allow businesses with strongly held religious beliefs to deny service to gays and lesbians, and two cases are pending before the U.S. Supreme Court in which religious business owners want their companies to be exempt from providing employee insurance coverage for contraception.
Eric Miller, founder of Advance America, a conservative advocacy group that includes many churches, said he fears the court ruling is only the first step toward teaching homosexuality in schools and punishing pastors for preaching against the gay lifestyle.
"The homosexual agenda is more than just marriage," he said. "It's the first step in an agenda that is harmful to the children, the women, and the families of Indiana."
Concerns about such fallout from Wednesday's court ruling are considered unfounded by gay-rights advocates. They say the decision is a huge step toward equality and represents an opportunity to end a contentious debate.
"The so-called homosexual agenda is not even known to the gay community," said Steven Stolen, a WFYI radio host and a plaintiff in one of the lawsuits that prompted the ruling. "I think it's all silly."
Republican legislative leaders, who have super-majorities in both chambers of the General Assembly, declined in statements Wednesday to address the ruling's impact on the proposed constitutional gay marriage ban.
But Senate President Pro Tempore David Long, R-Fort Wayne, acknowledged that the issue is largely outside their control for the time being.
"It is clear that the U.S. Supreme Court is going to have to rule on this issue, and the sooner the better," he said. "The current chaos over state marriage laws that is being created by these lower federal court rulings needs to stop, and only the Supreme Court can make that happen, and bring clarity to this issue once and for all."
But gay marriage supporters say lawmakers can end the debate at any time. Legislators this year passed an amended version of the ban that requires lawmakers to pass it one more time before it can go to the public for a vote.
"Maybe now we can put this needlessly divisive issue behind us," said Rep. Ed Clere of New Albany, the first Republican lawmaker in Indiana to oppose the proposed constitutional ban.
Andy Downs, director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics, said the decision could provide some cover for Republicans who don't want to be saddled with an issue that has waning public support.
The litigation could serve as an acceptable excuse for setting aside the constitutional ban for now, he said.
Meanwhile, conservatives might have a hard time agreeing on an alternative strategy. Legislation intended to address religious freedoms for churches and businesses "potentially fractures those unified groups," he said.
Still, issues surrounding gay marriage aren't likely to go away anytime soon. Indiana Republicans returned language to their party platform earlier this month endorsing marriage between a man and a woman.
For those on both sides of the debate, the ruling is only likely to further stoke passions.
"The activists want to force their own view of marriage upon every school, church, institution and individual in Indiana and America," Clark said. "This is a step toward moral and marital anarchy as the desires of activists trump biological truth and the established needs of children and society."
Not so, said gay marriage advocates.
"This is an extraordinary day for the plaintiffs in these cases and for all loving, committed Hoosier couples who want to marry in this state," said Kyle Megrath, coordinator of Hoosiers Unite for Marriage, a statewide effort dedicated to marriage equality for all couples. "Today, justice has been done, and love wins."
Call Star reporter Tony Cook at 317-444-6081. Follow him on Twitter: @indystartony.
Opinions on ruling run gamut
Here is reaction to Wednesday's ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Richard L. Young striking down Indiana's law banning same-sex couples:
House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis: "I consider it truly unfortunate that the federal court system is stepping in to make decisions in Indiana that are best left to Hoosier policymakers and ultimately to Hoosier voters. A wide bipartisan majority of Indiana lawmakers originally enacted the current statutory definition of marriage, and a wide margin of Hoosier lawmakers and citizens continue to support the statutory definition today. Our long-stated concern about federal judicial intervention into a matter best left to state policymakers has been confirmed. In the long run, Hoosiers will not be better off for it."
Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson: "I hail the decision of the court in favor of equal rights. Today, Indiana has joined the ranks of 19 other states where families of all types are recognized and individuals are granted the freedom to marry without the unjustified prejudice of the state. ... This is a win for equality, the community, and those who have taken a stand over the years to protect the rights of ALL Hoosiers. ... Ultimately, this lends credence to the idea that the legislature need not take further action on this issue and doing so would be an exercise of futility and a waste of our time."
The Rev. Ron Johnson, executive director of the Indiana Pastors Alliance: "I know I speak for thousands of other pastors. We will never perform (same-sex) wedding ceremonies. We're not going to allow the sacred institution of marriage to be redefined in a way that's different from how God defined it. We are where we are at today because of the moral and political failure of our General Assembly to address this issue and bring it before Hoosiers. ... We've opened a Pandora's box for family anarchy. I don't know where this is all going."
Indiana Roman Catholic Bishops: "With deep respect for all our brothers and sisters, we nevertheless see no basis in law or in nature for any definition of marriage that seeks to expand it beyond that of a covenant between one man and one woman."
Micah Clark, executive director, American Family Association of Indiana: "This is what we warned people and legislators of for years. Regardless of what any judge says, marriage is about uniting men and women together for the best interests of children and society. Men and women are uniquely and individually important. They are not interchangeable or discardable. Whatever two men may be, they are not a mom and a dad."
Harmony Glenn, Indy Feminists advisory council member: "We, at Indy Feminists are thrilled with today's court decision. We have been eagerly anticipating this day when Indiana can join the growing list of states with true marriage equality."
Eric Miller, founder of Advance America: "This is a tragic day, a sad day, a dangerous day. ... This judge has opened the door to the entire homosexual agenda in Indiana. ... It's time for our elected officials to stand up to judges who make wrong constitutional decisions that jeopardize the children and families of Indiana."
Michael Huber, president and CEO, Indy Chamber: "Today's ruling confirms the beliefs of many of our members that the federal court can overturn state law and, ultimately, the federal court could overturn a state constitutional measure. It validates a concern of many of our members who felt strongly that pursuing a constitutional amendment was not a good use of time and resources."
U.S District Judge Richard Young: "In time, Americans will look at the marriage of couples such as Plaintiffs, and refer to it simply as a marriage — not a same-sex marriage."
Compiled by Star staff