Monday, January 13, 2014

Flood of marriage money will divide Hoosiers

Posted By on Mon, Jan 13, 2014 at 8:30 AM

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The coming flood just began with a trickle.

A few days ago, the conservative advocacy group Advance America started running a series of television commercials designed to push the proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages in the Indianapolis and Fort Wayne media markets.

The ads follow on the heels of an outcropping of now outdated yard signs, placards and bumper stickers urging Hoosiers to reject House Joint Resolution 6, the original legislative designation for the proposed amendment. The measure for this session has been renamed HJR 3, which means much of the money spent on the signs and stickers has gone to waste.

It won't matter.

If HJR 3 makes it past the Indiana General Assembly and goes onto the ballot this autumn, the amount of money spent by both sides in this fight will make the sum dropped on obsolete yard signs seem like the lint in a rich man's pocket.

The leaders of Freedom Indiana - the most prominent coalition opposing the constitutional ban - have said they alone will raise $15 million to make the fight. Other groups on both sides of the battle are raising money just as aggressively.

After it is all over, we Hoosiers likely will see more than $50 million spent in the state arguing about same-sex marriage - more than the most expensive governor's race we've ever seen.

But this flood of money will be different than the tides unleashed by normal political campaigns.

All of it will be spent on a single issue and almost all of it will be devoted to demonizing the other side in the debate.

Regardless of which side wins, we will be a different state when this fight is over. Even when floods have receded back inside their banks, they still leave marks upon the land they've washed over.

Critics will call this spending splurge on same-sex marriage a waste. They'll note that the massive number of dollars spent won't have fed a single hungry person, put a school book in a child's hand, hired a police officer to walk or even done so much as pay for the electricity to power a street light.

All of that is true, but it's a criticism that could be leveled at almost any political campaign or dispute. The money we spend deciding elections and public policy debates is a basic cost of living in a self-governing society. This time, the bill just happens to be larger - much larger - than normal.

And the tenor will be different.

In most political campaigns, however negative they may be, there also generally is some attempt to unite people for the work of governing.

This fight will be exclusively about dividing people.

In the coming months, we're likely to see a lot of spots that depict people who support gay marriage - or at least don't want to see a ban placed in the state constitution - as the moral equivalent of pornographers and those who oppose the ban caricatured as bigoted snake-handling rubes. There won't be a lot of nuance. There will be a lot of calculated insults.

When the flood waters roll back, expect a lot of hard feelings to remain.

The problem is that the fighting - and the hard feelings - won't end when the ballots are cast. The dirty secret of most advocacy organizations is that they welcome battles like this because such fights represent marvelous opportunities for recruiting and fundraising. Angry, scared people - regardless of which side of the ideological divide they occupy - are the ones most likely to stay involved and keep writing checks, so it is in the advocacy group's interest to keep roiling the waters.

But that, of course, is the way of floods.

The waters roll over everything in sight, wreaking havoc as they go, changing the lives and the landscape they flow over forever.

This time the lives and the landscape just happen to be ours.

John Krull is director of Franklin College's Pulliam School of Journalism, host of "No Limits" WFYI 90.1 FM Indianapolis and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students and faculty.

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