INDIANAPOLIS | The Republican legislative leaders that used to proudly endorse the pending Indiana marriage amendment now are working hard to minimize it compared to other topics the General Assembly likely will tackle next year.
Speaking on Monday at an Indiana Chamber of Commerce luncheon, Senate President David Long, R-Fort Wayne, and House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, visibly cringed and were reluctant to answer when asked during an open question period if the amendment will be voted on by lawmakers.
"This is not the most important issue facing Indiana, OK? It is not. This is a difficult moment we have to get through and deal with," Long said. "But the most important issues are jobs and the economy and the education of our kids."
Bosma, who who led a 2004 Republican walkout fighting for the amendment against a then-Democratic House majority, said he has no plans to "fast track" the proposal now that he's in charge.
"I don't even know if it's going to be introduced. I presume it is ... it's not a priority," Bosma said. "It will go through the same process as every other bill or resolution: If it's introduced it'll be assigned to a committee, the chairman will make a decision on a committee hearing, if it comes out it will get voted on the floor."
Bosma said no matter what happens he hopes legislators and Hoosiers remain civil as they debate and discuss whether to add Indiana's existing ban on gay marriage and a new prohibition on civil unions to the state Constitution.
"We have to deal with the issue with dignity and respect for opposing viewpoints; we can't call people bigots or sinners," Bosma said. "We have to deal with this and work through it, whether we want to or not, together as Hoosiers and bring this 12-year discussion to a conclusion in one direction or another."
Republican reluctance to renew their previous loud and frequent calls for the amendment may be because of the results of several recent public opinion polls showing a majority of Hoosiers likely will reject the amendment if the Republican-controlled legislature decides to put it on the November 2014 ballot.
Adding their voices to the debate Monday, more than 300 Indiana faith leaders sent a letter to lawmakers declaring their opposition to the amendment, including the Rev. Sharon Baker, Gary; the Rev. Michael Cooper, Portage; the Rev. Randy Duncan, LaPorte; Rabbi Stanley Halpern, Gary; the Rev. Jason Jones, Highland; the Rev. C. Patrick Oems, Valparaiso; and the Rev. Daniel Wright, LaPorte.
The Interfaith Coalition on Non-Discrimination writes in its letter that the amendment strips the freedom of religious groups to decide what constitutes a marriage, and even though there are differences between religions on that issue, government should not prefer and codify one view over another.
House Democratic leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, said he hopes Republican legislative leaders will realize that not voting on the marriage amendment this year, which would restart the lengthy amendment process, "isn't necessarily the worst course."
"We have an opportunity to avoid a very divisive debate — not among legislators, we get elected to do that — avoid a very divisive debate among our own citizens and one that will be on display to the rest of the nation," Pelath said.