INDIANAPOLIS — Punting on gay marriage was probably the best move Senate President Pro Tem David Long and House Speaker Brian Bosma could have taken on an issue that might otherwise have shoved aside debate on workforce development and education spending, but it hardly clears the field of the issue.
Long and Bosma, who lead supermajorities in their respective chambers, consulted their caucus members last week and came away with essentially the same argument they had been making since the start of session: There's no point in fighting a bitter battle until they see whether the U.S. Supreme Court rules state-level bans unconstitutional this summer.
"It seems prudent for us to wait, given that the Supreme Court could find ours as well as many other statutes around the country, and constitutional amendments, unconstitutional according to the federal constitution, which would take priority over our own," Long said.
Opponents of writing the ban into the state constitution claimed a temporary victory, even though both leaders made it clear they will be pushing the issue next year if they get a green light from the Supreme Court.
With decisive Republican majorities in both chambers and large numbers of Democrats who supported the ban when it first came up for a vote in 2011, the measure is all but guaranteed to clear the General Assembly a second time if it is brought up for a vote.
That confidence was reflected by supporters of the ban like American Family Association of Indiana Executive Director Micah Clark, who declared: "A delay may be a disappointment, but it is not a defeat."
Assuming that the ultimate decision would come from voters on Nov. 4, 2014, the gay marriage battle was always going to play out in public. The General Assembly would be just a stop along the way.
But public attitude toward gay marriage is continually shifting, according to most polling. Bosma has said he did not consult any polls in making the decision to wait a year, but he did try to poke holes in a public poll released in December that showed a majority of residents oppose writing the ban into the constitution.
The Bowen Center for Public Affairs/WISH-TV poll found that while Hoosiers are evenly split on whether gay marriage should be legal, 54 percent believe the ban should not be ensconced in the state constitution. Bosma called the poll "unscientific" because it queried residents and not necessarily voters.
On the national scene, there's no question that attitudes have shifted, evidenced by a trio of states where voters legalized gay marriage for the first time. That followed more than a decade of votes to limit marriage to between one man and one woman in states as diverse as California and North Carolina.
Opponents of the ban, led by Indiana Equality Action President Rick Sutton, say they feel that shift in attitudes coming to Indiana.
"We have a lot of work to do, clearly. We know where we were two years ago, but we know where the national movement is going as well. We have 320 days to convince legislators to be on our side," Sutton said.
Those shifting political winds may best be seen in Bosma. Almost a decade earlier, there was no punting on this issue for the veteran lawmaker. In fact, it was so important that he led House Republicans on a walkout in 2004 because then-Speaker Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend, blocked the measure.
"This is the most critical piece of the people's business," Bosma shouted at the time.
And it could be "the most critical" issue again in a year, if the Supreme Court gives Indiana lawmakers that green light.