INDIANAPOLIS — Megan Robertson has put in long hours working to elect Republicans at all levels of government. In 2008, she organized three campaign rallies in Indiana for then-vice presidential candidate and conservative firebrand Sarah Palin.
She wants government to cut taxes. She questions the wisdom of the federal health care overhaul.
But after years of running Republican campaigns behind the scenes, the self-described conservative has stepped into the spotlight — and into a role that puts her at odds with the positions of some of her former bosses.
Robertson left her job as communications director for U.S. Rep. Luke Messer, an Indiana Republican who opposes same-sex marriage, to become the lead soldier in the fight against Indiana's proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.
As campaign manager for the new Freedom Indiana coalition, Robertson will draw on every bit of tenacity, passion and grassroots-organizing skill she has developed during a decade on the front lines of Republican politics.
It's a role that mixes the personal with the political, and it reflects some younger Republicans' dissent over the marriage issue.
Robertson, 31, is gay. And she says she's determined to work for Republican candidates and officials again once the fight in Indiana is over.
But something pulled at her to take a detour.
"This seemed like the right thing to do," Robertson told The Indianapolis Star (http://indy.st/1fyTg19 ), underlining that she is "still incredibly Republican."
But when it comes to adding a gay marriage ban to Indiana's constitution, "I think folks are just a little more emboldened and, frankly, ready to say this is not what we are as Republicans."
The marriage amendment goes before the General Assembly for the second time early next year. If the legislature approves, the issue would go before Indiana voters in November 2014.
Indiana's proposed amendment would add the existing gay marriage ban in state law to the state constitution as well as prohibit any "legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage," including civil unions.
That second part, say Robertson and other opponents, would make it one of the nation's most extensive bans.
Ramping up a statewide organization in a matter of months to defeat the proposed amendment is a tall order. Freedom Indiana got started last month with a bang, garnering twin $100,000 checks from Eli Lilly and Co. and Cummins Inc., as well as support from several national advocacy groups.
Republicans who have watched Robertson at work say she's ready for the challenge.
"If it is going to be a tough fight, then Megan Robertson is someone I want in the fox hole because she's sharp, she has tons of grassroots political experience and she has been involved in some remarkable campaign victories," said Robert Vane, a former spokesman for Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard. He's now a media and public relations consultant.
"Megan made a very courageous choice," added Vane, who sees the marriage amendment as unnecessary, "and I applaud her for it."
Robertson started as an intern for the Indiana Republican Party at age 20, ran an Anderson mayoral candidate's successful campaign during college and has played roles in campaigns that included John McCain's 2008 presidential bid.
In 2011, she managed a successful re-election bid for Ballard, who shares her opposition to the marriage amendment.
Tom John, a former Marion County Republican Party chairman, rubbed elbows with Robertson on that campaign and others. He was among a few dozen Republican faces at the Freedom Indiana launch.
"She's one of the hardest-working people I know and extremely organized," John said. On Ballard's campaign, he noted, Robertson was responsible in part for ensuring volunteers made hundreds of thousands of voter phone calls.
As she looked ahead to next year, Robertson said her choice was between joining Freedom Indiana — a different kind of campaign than she was used to — and potentially working for a Republican Senate candidate's campaign in another state, more in line with her history.
Robertson's mother said she wasn't surprised by her daughter's decision.
Lorie Robertson recalled her daughter's tenacious competitiveness as a child, as she was growing up in Portage in Northwest Indiana, as well as her sense of fairness. It didn't matter that she was the smallest person in class or on the basketball court.
"Megan was the first one to stand up for anyone being mistreated," her mother said, adding: "We wouldn't expect anything less from her now."
Robertson was relaxed last week at a conference room table inside the Downtown Indianapolis offices that Freedom Indiana shares with Indiana Equality Action.
For Robertson — and for her counterparts at pro-constitutional ban groups, which include two family-focused organizations — this is the calm before a frenzied 2014.
She's making plans for a statewide campaign with field offices outside Indianapolis. She hopes to hire 15 to 25 employees while recruiting an army of volunteers and supporters. She will enlist them to contact state legislators and, if needed, to lobby their family members, friends and neighbors before a statewide vote.
Robertson sees her opposition to the amendment as in line with conservatism's focus on individual liberty.
But many conservatives disagree with that perspective — including not only Messer, whose congressional campaigns Robertson managed, but also U.S. Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., for whom Robertson served as campaign political director in 2010.
For many conservatives, religion heavily influences their position. Some also draw on a belief that government should encourage the formation of families with a mother and a father.
"Marriage benefits society in a unique way. It is the least restrictive means to ensure the well-being of children," Curt Smith, president of the Indiana Family Institute, wrote in an op-ed in The Indianapolis Star in June. But state recognition of same-sex marriage "downgrades the importance of the parenting roles of the father and the mother" — a prospect that Indiana could avert, Smith said, by passing the constitutional amendment.
Robertson said she long has respectfully disagreed with some Republican candidates and officials on the issue.
When she joined campaigns, she said, she sometimes told candidates up front that she was gay, figuring there was a risk that her sexuality could become an issue in a cut-throat race. She says she always felt respected, especially by Messer.
But just a couple weeks before she got the offer to lead Freedom Indiana, a crystalizing moment of sorts occurred.
In late June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the federal government must recognize legally performed gay marriages. It also declined to rule on the legality of California's gay marriage ban, letting stand a lower-court ruling finding it unconstitutional.
Messer issued a statement expressing disappointment with those decisions and "my hope that states will define marriage as the union between one man and one woman."
Robertson, who sometimes wrote Messer's public statements, didn't play a part in that one — Messer wrote it himself, she said — but it still was her job to send it out.
In retrospect, she said, "I think it made me realize I was more ready to work on the issue than I was before."
Messer's office declined to discuss Robertson's new role at length. Doug Menorca, Messer's chief of staff, noted that Messer was a co-author of the state marriage amendment when he served in the General Assembly.
But he said that while the two disagree, Messer "appreciates Megan's service to our organization over the last several years."
From Coats' office, spokeswoman Tara DiJulio similarly expressed Coats' appreciation for Robertson's work as political director for his campaign in 2010. She reiterated Coats' view that "marriage is between one man and one woman."
Asked about the coming debate over the amendment, Tim Berry the new chairman of the Indiana Republican Party, said through a spokesman: "On this, and other issues, there are different viewpoints within our party and, quite frankly, that's what makes us strong."
Indianapolis' Mayor Ballard is among Republicans on Robertson's side of the issue.
"I think it's a good role for her," Ballard said. "She's been through so many campaigns and so many divisive issues, I'm sure she'll remember how everybody got through those and just do it herself."
Ballard, who opposed the amendment in 2011 but didn't play an active role, says he sees no "overriding government interest" in banning gay marriage and believes such an amendment could harm companies' ability to attract employees to Indiana.
Robertson talks in similar terms, and that's a reason a bipartisan group of advocates say they zeroed in on her to marshal Freedom Indiana's fight.
During their talks with Robertson, Rick Sutton, a Democrat who runs Indiana Equality Action, said that he "heard in her voice the desire to tackle the issue on the merits and the facts and on the business angle," an approach on which they agreed.
But he was looking for something else, too, to confirm to him that Robertson, with all her political know-how and organizing skills, was the right choice.
"I wanted to make sure she had the fire in the belly," he said. "And she did."