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Out-of-touch lawmakers restrain state


When the Hoosiers Unite for Marriage coalition was announced last month, its spokesman said the organization would not support legislation or endorse candidates but instead build support for same-sex marriage by working “to change hearts and minds.”

Hearts and minds are changing rapidly on the subject even without the coalition’s work, and court rulings that overwhelmingly affirm the rights of same-sex couples are changing laws across the nation.

What’s not changing is the resistance of Indiana elected officials to recognize those changes, a resistance affecting not just gay marriage but dozens of issues held hostage by an ultra-conservative faction effectively employing its electoral clout. Until more moderate voices do the same, Indiana will continue to waste time on divisive issues that hamper its economic progress.

Gun control measures are one example. Hoosiers certainly recognize Second Amendment rights, but they also support sensible regulation. The WISH-TV/Ball State University Hoosier Survey last November found 83 percent of Indiana residents favor background checks for buyers at gun shows or private sales; 54 support banning assault weapons; 65 percent favor a national database of gun owners, and only 38 percent support arming teachers and school employees.

So what did the General Assembly do with that information? Why, it passed a law allowing adults to keep guns in their cars in school parking lots.

The death toll in Indiana child care settings since 2009 topped 30 before Indiana lawmakers finally passed more stringent regulations. The only opposition to the common-sense safety standards came from a small and politically active group hysterically warning of state control of churches, and yet it managed to hold off legislation until the list of young victims became too great to ignore.

On immigration, the most recent Hoosier Survey found just over a third of respondents identified the issue as a priority for the legislature, declining in importance for each of the last three years. Still, Indiana lawmakers continue to rally supporters around tougher immigration enforcement, even as the courts knock down related laws.

Same-sex marriage continues to stand as the best example of an election stranglehold by a minority. Opponents of the proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage succeeded in delaying a voter referendum this year. But GOP legislative leaders’ refusal to back off the issue – even at the request of some of the state’s corporate giants – demonstrated how frightened they are of same-sex marriage opponents.

For good reason: Those opponents succeeded in defeating Reps. Kathy Heuer and Rebecca Kubacki with tea party challengers in May. Both Heuer and Kubacki opposed the proposed constitutional amendment. The gay marriage supporters who packed the Statehouse last winter abandoned them in May; reinforcing the far-right’s electoral clout and reminding elected officials that same-sex marriage supporters can hold boisterous demonstrations but don’t bother to vote. Attorney General Greg Zoeller clearly acknowledged that when he rushed to request a stay on the federal court’s decision to overturn Indiana’s ban on gay marriage.

If Indiana is ever to escape the quagmire of divisive and backward cultural issues, moderate and progressive voices need to spend less time changing hearts and minds and more time registering voters and getting them to the polls.