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EDITORIAL

Trust federalism on the question of gay marriage

Friday, October 25, 2013 - 12:01 am

Quit trying to rush voters with a shortcut to inevitability.

Have you been trying to decide what you think about gay marriage? Are you agonizing over whether the ban on it should just stay in the law or be put in the state constitution? Are you thinking about how you will vote on the proposed ban if the General Assembly authorizes a referendum?

Well, stop wasting your time. The gay marriage issue is settled already.

So says columnist Erika D. Smith of The Indianapolis Star. “Here’s what’s already happening in Indiana,” she writes. “Same-sex couples are getting married. Legally married … Sure, they’re driving to Iowa or New York or flying to California or Washington to do all this. Those are some of the states where gay marriage is legal. But they’re coming back to Indiana as legally married couples in the eyes of the federal government …

“Even if the Indiana General Assembly does decide to back the constitutional ban, we’re talking November of 2014 before the issue goes before voters … Between now and next November how many more people will come to think of gay couples as just married couples? … So go ahead and try to pass the amendment if you want … Go ahead and try, but it won’t matter. Because you’ve already lost.”

Well now.

She may well be right in the long run. Acceptance of gay marriage may have reached the tipping point, even here in conservative, “traditional” Indiana. Recent polls have varied on the issue depending on who commissioned them, but the trend does seem to be toward greater tolerance. In fact, the public’s attitude has turned around on gay marriage with blazing speed, faster than on any other social issue we can think of.

That is reason enough to slow down and think about it. That’s what a referendum would accomplish. There is time for gay marriage supporters and opponents to marshal their best arguments and for Hoosiers to come to an informed decision.

Between now and November 2014, as Smith says, more states are likely to have approved of gay marriage. That will give us more real-world examples to study for actual results and possible unintended consequences of changing the definition of something that’s been seen the same for hundreds of years.

That’s what federalism is all about. Individual states try something and other states watch the experiment to see if they want to try it, too.

Those who keep wanting to find a shortcut to inevitability should slow down and have a little faith in the system. If they’re right about changing public attitudes, they will prevail in the end, and we’ll all have a better understanding of where we’re headed.