Timing is everything when it comes to the battle over whether to amend Indiana’s constitution to ban same-sex marriages. And key lawmakers are playing their cards close to the vest heading into the 2013 legislative session with a new governor and a list of big priorities.
Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma told reporters before the election that the measure could move swiftly through his chamber, but he did not include it in a package of ideas House Republicans said they would push in 2013.
Rep. Eric Turner, R-Cicero, led the fight for the measure’s passage last year but has yet to say if or when he will introduce the measure, which needs a second vetting by the General Assembly before it can be placed on the 2014 ballot.
“I don’t know yet. Our leadership team, including (Rep.) Tim (Brown) and others, will get together and identify all the things we want to try to accomplish this session and next,” Turner said. “We’ll look at a lot of factors.”
Some supporters of the ban argue now is the time to push the measure through. But there are more variables than usual for lawmakers to consider heading into 2013.
They will have to write their next biennial budget, get acclimated to a new governor for the first time in eight years and measure the possibility that the U.S. Supreme Court will take up the issue and make the whole argument moot.
“I’m assuming legislators are going to wait and see what the new governor’s agenda is, what the new budget looks like,” said Micah Clark, executive director of American Family Association of Indiana, which supports the ban. “They can pass things as quickly or slowly as they want.”
Whether they move on the ban next year or in 2014, Clark said he is confident it would make it on the ballot.
“I’m going to assume they’re going to defer to the governor’s agenda and maybe some economic issues and education issues. I fully expect that with 1,600 bills filed on everything under the sun, this will be one of the issues that will probably come up,” he said.
Rick Sutton, executive director of Indiana Equality Action, pushed the issue to the fore last week with a press event detailing which laws would be affected by the constitutional language. He said he’s planning for a ballot-box battle no matter when it happens.
“They’re going to have decide when that happens. My guess is it’s sooner rather than later,” he said.
When lawmakers do debate the issue, it could be without a hand from Gov.-elect Mike Pence. Sutton said he met with Pence’s transition team last week and was told the new administration would stay out of the fight.
“I think everyone knows where Mike Pence has been on this issue in the past. But ... they have big things to do and this is not on their priority list to jump in to something where they have no role anyway,” he said.
“It is my opinion they have bigger fish to fry.”
Pence spokeswoman Christy Denault did not say how Pence would handle the issue, only stating, “Gov.-elect Pence is focused on building an administration and advancing his jobs and education initiatives.”
Veteran social conservative lobbyist Eric Miller would like to see the issue dealt with soon, noting that lawmakers have already approved a ban once.
“It’s not a new issue for the Legislature, so it shouldn’t take a great deal of time. So my recommendation would be for the Legislature to adopt this in 2013,” said Miller, president of Advance America, an Indiana-based group, which has lobbied on social issues for three decades.
Miller has had some success in the Legislature recently, pushing earlier this year to revoke specialty license plates for a gay youth group. Although lawmakers did not, a group of Republican senators supported a move by the BMV that revoked the plates because of a contract violation.
Among many other considerations, lawmakers will have to decide whether there’s room enough in one session for a budget, a tax cut, a new administration, an education debate, dozens of other issues and a debate on gay marriage.
“That is the million-dollar question,” Sutton said.