Marriage vote fallout limited to few Indiana races

(WISH Photo/Ron Nakasone)
(WISH Photo/Ron Nakasone)

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Although the fight over Indiana’s gay marriage ban hasn’t become the pivotal campaign issue some supporters predicted, a handful of Republican legislators are facing tough primary battles from challengers who blame them for delaying a constitutional amendment that would solidify the law.

Supporters of the state’s ban on same-sex weddings urged lawmakers to place it before voters for consideration this November. But the General Assembly delayed enactment of the constitutional amendment until at least 2016, a surprising blow for supporters.

Now those supporters, largely religious conservatives, have targeted a trio of northeast Indiana Republicans who helped reset the clock on the ban. With no statewide races on the ballot and few congressional contests expected to be close, the handful of legislative contests that focused on gay marriage were expected to be the most divisive heading into Tuesday’s primary.

Opponents of Rep. Kathy Heuer, R-Columbia City, and Rep. Casey Cox, R-Fort Wayne, have used their votes in advertisements and letters to local newspapers to attract conservative supporters. Rep. Rebecca Kubacki, R-Syracuse, has drawn a strong challenge from technology company owner Curt Nisly.

Indiana tea party leader Monica Boyer said conservative anger with Kubacki had been building for years, but reached a head with her vote keeping the marriage ban from the 2014 ballot.

“Those kinds of things have built up … and then the marriage issue just completely blew it open,” Boyer said. “She was going to be primaried anyway, but the fire and the passion over ‘You took away our right to vote’ (on gay marriage) has really been the switch.”

The rural stretch of Indiana between Fort Wayne and South Bend, an area hit hard by the recession and the decline of the RV manufacturing, is home to some of the state’s most socially conservative voters. It’s also home to some of the most active tea partyers.

But outside that area, the marriage fight appears to be having little impact — at least in terms of influencing elections.

Troy Montigney, a Republican operative who fought the marriage ban during the session with the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, said gay marriage has been a “non-issue” in the contested races in central Indiana. All 100 House members and half of the Senate are on the ballot.

“Statewide, three legislators are facing any level of noticeable criticism over their votes, and I would argue it’s only playing an outsize role in one district,” Montigney said.

He said supporters of the marriage amendment have had a harder time this cycle using it as an issue than they would have 10 years ago.

It’s a far cry from earlier this year, when concerns about ballot-box consequences spurred a Republican donor to prod House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, to drop the issue from consideration.

Bosma announced during the session that he had been offered “unlimited” campaign funds to make the issue “go away.” Former Republican Party Chairman Jim Kittle later told The Associated Press that he had offered to support any Republicans who faced election challenges because of how they voted but said Bosma misconstrued his offer.

Indiana requires constitutional amendments to pass two consecutive legislative sessions. Lawmakers passed the gay marriage amendment in 2011 and again this year, but they stripped out a key clause. The language change forced the measure back to square one.

Parvin Gillim, a 52-year-old architect from Sheridan, thinks there’s little interest left in amending the constitution. And even though he’s challenging the proposal’s lead author, House Speaker Pro Tem Eric Turner, for the seat representing a stretch of central Indiana from Westfield to Marion, he isn’t raising the issue.

“I haven’t asked people about it, people haven’t really asked me about it as well. I think right now people aren’t talking about it because they don’t think it is something worthy of consideration,” Gillim said.

Gillim said most voters in this rural district are interested in issues stemming from advancements in agricultural technology.

Regardless of the primary outcomes, Republicans are expected to retain a strong grip on the Statehouse.

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