Same-sex marriage constitutional ban unlikely to pass
Supported by 55 members in the House, a clear majority in the Senate and the state’s attorney general, a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage would seem like a fairly one-sided issue in the General Assembly. This is Indiana we’re talking about. Nearly seven out of 10 Americans oppose gay marriage, according to several polls taken in the days after the Massachusetts Supreme Court declared that their Legislature must re-write the law to allow gay couples to marry. Of course, the polls show just the opposite in Canada, where same-sex couples are allowed to marry in Ontario and British Columbia. If people in Indiana were polled, I imagine at least seven out of 10 would say they’ve never cared what Canadians think. My guess is people in Indiana would look more American on the question of gay marriage, but you never know. It may be that Advance America, the evangelical Christian group that often works the phones on these sorts of issues, is too busy trying to get its founder, Eric Miller, the GOP nomination for governor. But I’m not seeing an intense pressure brought to bear on the House Democratic leadership that would force them to budge and allow the resolution to come to the floor. At the moment, House leaders, including Speaker of the House Pat Bauer and Rules Committee Chairman Scott Pelath, have taken the position that the resolution is not needed and it will not see the light of day. Supporters of an amendment focus on a court case from Marion County challenging the 1997 state law that bans same-sex marriage or even recognition of marriages from other states or counties. If the Indiana Supreme Court were to overturn Indiana’s law, a constitutional amendment would be the only way to block same-sex marriages. To be fair to supporters of the constitutional amendment, there is something of a deadline looming. If they do not pass a resolution this year, supporters miss an opportunity to get a question on the ballot in 2007. Since a resolution to amend the state Constitution must pass in two separate General Assemblies, they would have to wait to try again until after the next round of House elections, which would get the issue on the ballot no earlier than 2009.
Liggett: Topic not finished in Indiana
The issue could show up in the governor’s race. GOP front runner Mitch Daniels supports the constitutional ban. Gov. Joseph Kernan doesn’t. Kernan seemed to indicate earlier that he might be open to some sort of contract, which sounded a bit like a civil union, but he made his position clearer Friday: He supports the current law — no less, but no more. The issue could also put the Democrats’ slender House majority in jeopardy. But even with the genuinely strong feelings on both sides, the pot doesn’t seem to be boiling in the General Assembly. Yet. I asked Rep. Ron Liggett, D-Redkey, about his experience. He may understand the issue better than anyone. As chairman of the Labor Committee, last year Liggett sponsored a bill that would make it illegal to discriminate against gays and lesbians in the workplace. The bill also had a series of rights that included access to health care benefits and inheritance rights that sounded a lot like civil unions. “I was a union carpenter for 17 years and an employer for 14 years. Sometimes I oversimplify things, but if a person is doing their job then they shouldn’t be discriminated against,” Liggett said. With a slight Southern accent and a trade union background, Liggett seemed like an unlikely choice to champion such a bill. It has caused him problems in his conservative rural district. But Liggett’s son Troy, the House speaker’s chief of staff, is openly gay. When he gave his dad an award at a meeting of the Stonewall Democrats, Troy said that, despite his position in the Speaker’s Office, he didn’t even know the bill was coming. His dad had done it on his own. Liggett got the bill through committee. He even had a Republican co-sponsor, Rep. Jerry Torr, R-Carmel. The bill came to the full House, where it went down after a fiery debate. Torr even turned and voted against the bill. Liggett says he is not sure he will try again. He did not introduce a similar bill this year. But he is certain the topic is not finished in Indiana. A conservative group has taken out an ad in the South Bend Tribune telling people in Speaker Bauer’s district that he won’t let the issue come to the floor. So the reaction to same-sex marriage in Indiana could come any day and it could be swift and angry, if people are really upset out there. Or we could see more of what we’ve seen in the last month — a lot of speeches from lawmakers who seem content to go home early and start their campaigns. Who knows? When they get home, lawmakers may find voters are more Canadian than we think. Steve Walsh is the Statehouse reporter for the Gary Post-Tribune.