INDIANAPOLIS — A social media war erupted on Gov. Mike Pence's Facebook page this week, a swirl of personal attacks and deleted comments in response to a statement he issued about gay marriage.
A handful of gay marriage supporters had their comments deleted and profiles blocked from the governor's Facebook page after Pence posted a statement online Wednesday saying he would support a constitutional ban on gay marriage.
Pence and his staff say they were confronted with vulgar language and personal attacks, including comments calling him a "bigot" and other derogatory words. But gay marriage supporters pointed to cases where his staff deleted innocuous statements asking what his position would do for attracting young professionals to Indiana and why he wouldn't support equal rights for gay couples.
"I know our staff has had a longstanding policy that many news organizations have regarding name-calling and vulgar comments. I'm confident our staff was just administering that the way that we do in any other debate," Pence said Thursday.
Other elected officials said they provide a legal disclaimer to commenters. On the House Democratic Caucus page, House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, includes a note saying that harassment, defamation, pornography and a range of other items will be deleted.
While some of the anger was pointed at the governor, others aimed at commenters themselves. Pence's staff provided an example of one woman who told another commenter to "burn in hell" and said she hoped all her children "come out gay so you hang yourself."
Pence spokeswoman Kara Brooks said Thursday that the governor's office has deleted vulgar comments before, but never as a means of stifling civil debate.
Jim Ansaldo, a commenter from Bloomington, told The Associated Press he asked "'Now that federal benefits may be extended to all legally married couples, which states do you think will attract the best and brightest?'" before being blocked.
Ansaldo said he was still blocked Thursday.
In one screenshot provided by gay marriage supporters, Leslie Mastin wrote, "I don't understand why grown, educated men are so afraid of gay people having equal rights ... you may try to silence us, but we'll keep on coming — and we're bringing rainbow flags and friends."
According to a second screenshot, that comment was later removed, but other comments adjacent to it that were critical of Pence remained.
The online sniping prefaces what is likely to be an incendiary fight through the 2014 session as lawmakers look at writing the state's gay marriage ban into the constitution.
Amending the constitution would give voters a chance to decide if stronger blocks on gay marriage should be put in place, and whether future Legislatures should be barred from considering benefits for gay couples. It would not give voters a chance to legalize gay marriage, however.