By: Brian Sikma
When the Indiana House-and primarily Speaker Pat Bauer and Rules Committee Chairman Scott Pelath- failed to pass SJR 7 (the proposed amendment to the Indiana Constitution defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman) last year, they effectively reset the entire effort to protect marriage in Indiana. The process of placing the definition of marriage in the state constitution starts anew this year with this session.
Since 2004 the Senate has passed a marriage amendment 4 times (2004, 2005, 2007 and 2008 ) and this year a new face is carrying the proposal forward. Freshman Senator Marlin Stutzman (R-Howe) is the original author of SJR 15, a slightly revised version of past proposed amendments. The language was revised to be nearly identical with that of Kentucky’s marriage amendment, which voters placed in that state’s constitution in 2004. The tested wording of the Kentucky amendment should help overcome concerns that some had about all the implications contained in the language of SJR 7.
With the state facing a slumping economy that is not only causing high unemployment but also creating a decline in government revenues forcing tough budget decisions, some may question whether or not it is appropriate to consider a social issue this session. Indeed, economic issues should be a first-priority item for the General Assembly. But there is nothing to limit the legislature’s focus to only one first-priority item. Even as he works to manage the size of the state budget and carefully cut wasteful spending and maximize the funding that will be appropriated this year, Governor Mitch Daniels is moving ahead with advancing his property tax caps in the constitution plan (I am not necessarily endorsing this plan-I am emphasizing leadership). He understands that leadership demands that more than one important issue be dealt with at one time, and the members of the General Assembly would do well to take note of this.
In the past Speaker Bauer has pointed to any number of “pressing” issues as reasons for why he could or should not waste valuable House time on debating and voting on a marriage amendment. The Senate, with much prodding from advocates of a marriage amendment, has been more apt to move the measure forward through the committee process and onto the floor for a full vote.
Inspite of what opponents of the proposal may say, Indiana still needs a marriage amendment. The events in California last year reinforce this point. When a majority of judges declared that marriage in the Golden State may not be limited to one man and one woman, they not only defied state law, but also the will of the voters of California who expressly voted to protect marriage in a referendum vote in 2000. Exercising their right to counter the judges’ reasoning via a referendum vote, California voters passed Proposition 8, an amendment to the state constitution defining marriage, last November. The fate of the faux marriages that took place between the Supreme Court ruling and the citizen’s vote in November is still being determined.
Unless members of the General Assembly act now, including Senator Richard Bray who chairs the important Senate Judiciary Committee, Indiana will continue to be left vulnerable to the whims of judges seeking to conduct social experiments with devastating consequences. If the future of Indiana depends in part on how our state leaders respond to the economic downturn, it depends much more on how we respond to attempts to turn marriage into something that it cannot successfully be. A strong economy is good, but protecting an institution so central to the training-and even survival-of future generations is at least as important.