Can Indiana dodge a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages and civil unions again this year? Last year we barely escaped when the amendment passed the state Senate but stalled in committee in the House. Under Indiana law if the amendment passes this session it would go in front of the voters during the 2008 presidential elections.*
While an Indianapolis Star poll released today shows that support for a constitutional amendment has dropped dramatically, the religious right has ramped up its propaganda machine. Recent political events, however, have rendered the amendment's fortunes uncertain. Political power, money, and influence will decide this issue more than respect for civil rights or religious fervor.
After the jump I start a small series of posts examining the various forces behind the amendment's eventual success or failure. In this post: The state legislature and the Indianapolis Star poll.
Republicans hold the majority in the Senate; Democrats have a slim (51-49) majority in the House. All House members are up for re-election in 2008.
As we saw in the 2007 elections, the public is outraged about property taxes and has caught anti-incumbent fever. They want taxes fixed and they want it now. Many legislators are concerned about their own re-election chances.
Suddenly gay marriage isn't such a priority. Republican leaders, however, keep trying to flog the horse to its feet, in the hopes that an amendment will drive conservative voters to the polls in a Presidential election year.
House Minority Leader Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, wanted to be perfectly clear Tuesday as the Indiana General Assembly held its session-beginning Organization Day.
Property taxes, he said, were the No. 1 issue. After property tax reform and the related issue of local government reform, he said, "there's a short list of additional issues. But I have to tell you that those two are so overwhelmingly at the front of the list, that the rest are almost footnotes."
And, he added, after mentioning a few other issues including crime, "after property taxes and local government reform, that may be about all we can handle this session."
Bosma was then asked how he'd feel if House Speaker B. Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend, decided there was no time to debate a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in this short legislative session, which resumes Jan. 8 and must end by March 14.
"There's plenty of time to deal with all of the issues that are before us in the General Assembly," Bosma said. "If someone says there's not enough time to deal with an issue, I think that may be more of an excuse than the reality."
Bosma, who once declared the amendment "the most important part of the people's business," has now relegated it to a "footnote." What would benefit the Republicans the most now - smear the queer or providing tax relief?
Democratic legislators have remained mum on the issue as well. The vast majority of them voted in favor of the amendment already so it's clear their priority isn't upholding civil rights. What benefits them?
With the public so outraged over property taxes, would it benefit either party to hold up tax reform so they can blame it on the other? Would they be tempted to rubber stamp the amendment in an attempt to pacify conservatives angry over taxes and sweep their votes in the next election? No one knows yet.
The Indianapolis Star poll
Support among Hoosiers for a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage appears to be on the decline, according to an Indianapolis Star-WTHR (Channel 13) poll.
The poll, based on the responses of 600 people statewide, found that 49 percent of Hoosiers supported the amendment. That number is down from 56 percent in a March 2005 survey by The Star.
Of the respondents, 44 percent said they opposed a constitutional ban, up from 40 percent in 2005.
I've seen other polling done around the amendment that showed a much higher approval rating than 56%. For the Star poll to show only 49% in favor of the amendment is a huge step in favor of equality. I almost did a jig this morning when I saw the news.
It still concerns me that more people favor the amendment than disapprove of it. The number of respondents opposed to the ban has also increased dramatically, but the religious right would still carry the day if the numbers jived. Include the margin of error though and we've suddenly got a horse race on our hands.
Why is the public shifting priorities so suddenly? Have property taxes stolen the spotlight? Has the hard work we've done organizing the grassroots had an affect on the public perception of the amendment? Have the religious right and Republican politicians finally shown their true colors often enough to remind the general public how big of hypocrites they are? (See recent posts on Ted Haggard, Larry Craig, Bob Allen, Glenn Murphy, Richard Roberts and more!)
How do they fit together?
The Star poll doesn't ask the in-depth questions that I'd like to know the answers to. I'm sure it doesn't tell the legislators as much as they'd like either. What it does tell them is that support for attacking the LGBT community is fading fast with the average citizen.
God forbid the men and women at the General Assembly focus on real problems during the short amount of time allotted them this year. While Hoosiers are demanding solutions to out of control tax rates, local government reform and improving education, will the legislators put politics over people once again?
Most importantly, will the 40% opposed to the amendment be joined at the voting booth by the lynch mob if there's no property tax relief? "Follow the money" has always been good advice and I'm willing to bet that money - for lobbyists, campaigns, and taxes - will have more of an impact on the constitutional amendment than anything LGBT or religious right organizations can do with their members.
What roles will Republican Governor Mitch Daniels and the religious right organizations play in this drama? I'll tell you in the next post.
*All amendments to the Indiana constitution must pass two consecutively elected legislatures and then it can go on the ballot for everyone to vote on. The amendment has already passed both houses once. If it fails this year it would be at least four more years before it could go to a referendum.
(This is the 1st post in a series on SJR-7, the proposed Indiana constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage and civil unions. The other posts are "The fate of Indiana's anti-marriage amendment" and "Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels and the Religious Right.")