The mostly ceremonial nature of the General Assembly’s annual Organization Day is colored this year by a nagging question: Will they or won’t they amend the Indiana Constitution to define marriage?
Lawmakers have every reason not to: rapidly changing public opinion, more important topics, troubling state revenue and unrelenting pressure from businesses and universities. But pressure from social conservatives to approve the resolution and send the question to voters next November weighs heavily on Republican leaders.
As a supermajority, it is Republican leadership’s call to advance the measure or allow it to lapse. If not approved next year, it would be 2016 before the measure could go before voters. Its approval, however, would have effects far worse than a messy Organization Day overshadowed by the same-sex marriage debate. Lawmakers will be called to account for standing on the wrong side of efforts to improve the state’s struggling economy.
The list of opponents to the proposed constitutional amendment grows by the day: Eli Lilly and Co., Cummins Engines, Indiana University, Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, Wabash College, Emmis Communications. Their objections come not from a social perspective, but from the fact that writing a ban on same-sex marriage into the state constitution would be bad for business and would impair employers’ capability to attract and retain talent.
The Indiana Chamber of Commerce, arguably the most powerful force at the Statehouse these days, is notably silent on the resolution. But its list of legislative priorities says much. Eliminating the personal property tax on businesses takes top billing in the list released Monday, with support or opposition to the proposed marriage amendment nowhere to be found. It’s a sound reminder that economic measures – not social ones – should occupy lawmakers’ attention in 2014.
If lawmakers are listening, the warning signs are there. The current fiscal year has had just one month with state revenue collections on target. Particularly worrisome is a shortfall in individual income tax collections, $77 million short of the same period last year and before the first phase of Gov. Mike Pence’s income tax rate-cut goes into effect in 2015.
As legislators convene today to mark the start of the new session, they deserve some moments to reflect on the tradition of the General Assembly and to acknowledge their new members – Rep. Casey Cox, R-Fort Wayne, among them. But they shouldn’t ignore the dangerous push to elevate the ban on same-sex marriage from a state law to a constitutional amendment. This is the time to shut down the efforts to enshrine a ban on same sex marriage into the Indiana Constitution. A signal today would wisely inform other states that Indiana is truly a state that works, and one that embraces diversity.