February 12, 2014

KITCHELL: Same-sex marriage issue likely to be on ballot


---- — About a decade ago, an Indiana legislator and I were talking about the emergence of the same-sex marriage issue in Indiana, and he told me the only answer to preventing gay marriage would be to ratify a state constitutional amendment.

That member is still in the Indiana General Assembly today, but so much has changed since we had that conversation. For starters, other states now permit same-sex marriage. We’re not talking about just New York or California here. We’re talking about Iowa.

It wasn’t that long ago that a senator from Illinois ran for president and didn’t support the notion. Admittedly, it took him some time to accept it. But he has.

The issue is still evolving nationally and Indiana is not alone in not allowing same-sex marriages.

What all this means is that the No. 1 issue in the Indiana General Assembly today will likely be on the ballot this year. We don’t know the wording, and we don’t even know how long the outcome of that vote will represent the opinions and wishes of the Indiana electorate in five years let alone one.

What we do know is that this issue isn’t going away and that many groups have weighed in on it as something Indiana should allow because many major employers offer benefits to employees with same-sex partners. Failing to permit something that other states already do will put Indiana at an economic disadvantage, these groups contend.

Indiana has traditionally been slow to accept these kinds of social changes. Ironically however, it supported the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment to the United States Constitution, yet the nation has never added that amendment to our Constitution to guarantee equal pay for women.

What we do know is that regardless of how legislators vote on this issue, there will be fallout for them, depending on their districts. A referendum on same-sex marriage may alienate some, regardless of the outcome, but at the end of the day, it’s an issue that we have to address.

What we do know is that this issue has moved closer to acceptance than rejection in recent years on a national level. What we do know is that colleges and universities which have to admit students regardless of race, creed, color, national origin or sexual preference, support it.

At the least, Indiana has to acknowledge the legal relationship of couples in civil unions, particularly if couples are legally united in other states. There are legal reasons for this that affect a number of aspects of our lives, including estate planning. In the big picture, Hoosiers will have to ask themselves if endorsing marriage in any form, between any two people, is a bad thing even if it is in a monogamous, same-sex relationship, or if it is an exclusive thing.

It is interesting to note that a former assistant girls basketball coach at Logansport High School, Stephanie White, went on record supporting same-sex marriage. White, like many gay or lesbian Americans, is not only in a same-sex relationship, but parenting children. She is a color analyst for the Indiana Fever in the WNBA and travels to other WNBA cities in states where same-sex marriage is permitted.

It wasn’t that long ago that a NBA player stepped forward to admit that he was gay. Just this week, a University of Missouri defensive lineman who was the Southeast Conference Defensive Player of the Year announced he is gay.

In fact, this is not a Democrat, Republican or independent issue. It’s an Indiana issue that will be decided for now by a Legislature and governor of the same party, the Republican Party. It would be a false generalization to say that all Republicans are straight or that all gay and lesbian Americans are Democrats or independents. Fundamentally, it is an issue that really is less about what people practice religiously in their faith and more about the concept of adopting a law that in any way denies rights to a certain segment of our population who are otherwise law-abiding, taxpaying citizens.

What may the most accurate statement at this point in the legislative process is that legislators aren’t sure where they are with the issue, and that may reflect where the electorate is, too.

Stay tuned.

Dave Kitchell is a columnist for the Pharos-Tribune. He can be reached at