By Maureen Hayden
CNHI Statehouse Bureau
If GOP leaders in the Indiana General Assembly announce this week, as expected, that they’re postponing a vote on a constitutional ban on same-sex marriages and civil unions, you can expect them to cite the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to step into the larger issue later this year as the primary reason.
But that explanation doesn’t tell the whole story.
Increasingly, the conservative Republicans who control the Statehouse are picking up on the evolution in the public’s thinking about same-sex relationships, reflected in a series of recent polls.
And they especially don’t want to alienate younger voters who find the GOP’s traditional anti-gay position on same-sex marriage to be downright weird.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to weigh in on two same-sex marriage cases provides some convenient cover. Since the court’s ruling on whether same-sex marriage bans are constitutional isn’t expected until July, long after the Indiana Legislature is out of session, Republican leaders can argue that it’s wise to wait.
They’ll say they can always revisit the issue if the court doesn’t rule against such bans, and still have the 2014 session to decide whether to send the proposed amendment on to the public for a referendum vote in November 2014.
And, since same-sex marriage is already illegal in Indiana, they can say there’s no immediate threat to the “traditional” family.
But they know what the polls are showing — and how different they are from a few years ago, when the GOP thought a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage was a sure-fire way to get their supporters out to vote.
They got a glimpse of it last October, when the Howey/DePauw Indiana Battleground Poll showed only 45 percent of Hoosier voters would support a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. Among younger voters, the percentage was much less.
Ditto for the results from the 2012 Hoosier Survey done by the Bowen Center for Public Affairs at Ball State University in December. That poll found that while Indiana residents are evenly split on the question of whether same-sex marriage should be legalized, 54 percent are against putting a ban on it into the state constitution.
A national Gallup Poll last November, taken right after Republican Mitt Romney’s crushing defeat, showed more than half of Americans — 53 percent — think that same-sex marriages should be recognized as valid.
That’s up from 40 percent in 2008, and up from 35 percent in 1999. The Gallup poll also showed that among young voters aged 18-29, 73 percent support same-sex marriage. And almost a third of them identified themselves as Republican.
During last year’s gubernatorial campaign, then-GOP candidate Mike Pence said he favored amending the constitution to ban same-sex marriage (as did his Democratic opponent John Gregg.) But both were out of step with their party platforms: the state Republican Party removed the same-sex marriage ban from its party platform last spring, and the state Democratic Party, for the first time, came out against the ban.
Now that he’s in office, Gov. Pence is sidestepping the issue, which is another signal of the waning political appeal of the amendment. When asked about it, Pence repeats his mantra that Hoosiers want him to keep his focus — and that of the General Assembly’s — on more important issues, like improving education and creating jobs.
Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for the CNHI newspapers in Indiana. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.