It’s the same game plan, just a different chamber, the campaign director for Freedom Indiana declared Tuesday after the Indiana House approved a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.
But why approach the Senate with a failed strategy?
The bipartisan coalition opposing the measure might have slowed the rush to amend the Indiana Constitution but didn’t derail it. If opponents of House Joint Resolution 3 are to succeed in defeating the discriminatory measure, they need a new game plan.
Packing the Statehouse with passionate protesters didn’t work. Rallying faith leaders to urge tolerance and compassion didn’t work. Nor did mobilizing business and education leaders to explain how the measure would harm Indiana’s ability to attract and retain talent.
Polls showing the growing number of Hoosiers who support same-sex marriage clearly didn’t bother the 57 House Republicans who voted for HJR 3.
But here’s what would: The prospect of thousands of first-time voters. An effective voter registration drive would get the attention of Republican lawmakers mostly attuned to Advance America, the Indiana Family Institute and their members, who faithfully vote.
House Speaker Brian Bosma is politically shrewd. If he believed his efforts to push the constitutional amendment would cost Republicans their super-majority status in the House – or cost him his post as House leader – he wouldn’t be pursuing the amendment with such zeal. But Bosma and other GOP leaders are driven by poll numbers showing that likely voters support a ban on same-sex marriage. Angry HJR 3 opponents who won’t bother to vote in May are of no concern to him.
Republican leaders are so convinced by their poll numbers, in fact, that they are willing to cross the pro-business interests opposed to the resolution, confident that those interests won’t abandon them over a single issue.
Not so for the anti-gay marriage forces, who already are protesting what they see as an act of defiance by the Republican House members who voted no on Tuesday. Rep. Rebecca Kubacki, R-Syracuse, faces a challenge from tea party activist Curt Nisly in spite of her overwhelmingly conservative voting record.
Freedom Indiana needs to apply the same pressure to lawmakers unwilling to take Kubacki’s principled stand. The coalition can do it by recruiting new voters. From nearly 4.3 million registered voters, just 890,000 Hoosiers cast ballots in the 2010 primary election, for a turnout of 21 percent. The general election that year drew just 41 percent of registered voters. As long as GOP leaders can count on a similar group returning to the polls in May and November, they have little to fear.
What will give them pause, however, is a rush on voter registration offices. Democracy never is well served by single-issue voters, but an influx of new participants in the wake of the House vote would send a powerful message that a new and engaged group is watching. The candidate filing deadline for the May primary is Feb. 7, but parties have until June 30 to fill ballot vacancies opposite uncontested incumbents.
Freedom Indiana has done a commendable job of rallying broad opposition to HJR 3. But the fact that the contentious and damaging debate drags on proves more is needed.
Census figures suggest about a half-million Hoosiers age 18 and older are not registered. If even half of those eligible suddenly registered, imagine the chill they would place on the General Assembly’s wrongheaded effort to write discrimination into the constitution.