Flying in the face of the national trend in favor of same-sex marriage, Indiana Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Gregg announced his support of a proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages and civil unions on the same day President Obama announced his support for same-sex marriage. Gregg's Republican opponent, far-right Congressman Mike Pence, also supports the discriminatory amendment. Libertarian candidate Rupert Boneham, the former Survivor reality show star, has already announced his support of full marriage equality for all Hoosiers.
The entire national Democratic leadership reiterated their support for LGBT equality this week, including President Obama, Vice President Biden, House leaders Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer, Senate leaders Harry Reid and Richard Durbin, as well as the heads of the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. The party is also expected to include a plank in their national platform to support marriage equality.
"John believes that everyone should be treated with respect and dignity," said campaign spokesperson Megan Jacobs over email. "However, he also believes that marriage is between a man and a woman and does not support legalizing gay marriage. John doesn't base his policy positions on polling numbers or on what national Democrats are saying. His personal belief is that marriage is between a man and a woman and he's not going to change any of his beliefs because it's politically expedient." Jacobs refused to answer whether or not Gregg supported civil unions or domestic partner benefits.
"I just don't get it," said Boneham in reaction to Gregg's announcement. "I don't understand why they are so hostile to committed consenting adults getting the same legal protections and benefits as everyone else. I'm not just making empty statements about supporting LGBT Hoosiers. I've been saying publicly that I will fight for marriage equality in Indiana. I will put everything I've got into defeating this bigoted amendment and then I will focus in on repealing Indiana DoMA."
He continued: "The protections in the Indiana and U.S. Constitutions apply to each and every one of us. We aren't supposed to have second class citizens in this country and we won't stand by and allow there to be second class Hoosiers."
Democratic Base Reacts
Civil rights organizations and some of the candidate's backers were justifiably outraged by Gregg's endorsement of governmental discrimination of a minority group.
"A true commitment to dignity for all demands supporting marriage for same-sex couples," said Human Rights Campaign Vice President of Communications Fred Sainz. "There is no dignity in being unable to make medical decisions for your partner in the hospital, in being unable to immediately place your name on your child's birth certificate, or in being asked to lie to your government on legal documents about your relationship to your spouse. John Gregg does not even have respect for same-sex couples to indicate that he supports a lesser status for same-sex couples such as civil unions."
While the AFL-CIO had previously endorsed Gregg's candidacy, his support for discrimination could put that assistance in jeopardy. Shortly following Gregg's acknowledgement that he endorses bigotry, AFL-CIO President Richard L. Trumka put out a release saying, "Working people believe in equality and fairness and that's why we are happy to stand with millions of Americans and with President Obama in supporting marriage equality. Most important, we should respect and honor our friends, neighbors, and family members who want to take care of their families and their loved ones -- whatever their sexual orientation. We are proud to come together for a more just America."
"Marriage is not 'defined' by who it's denied to, and government has no business placing obstacles in the path of people seeking to take care of their loved ones," Freedom to Marry President Evan Wolfson commented. Seeking to cement discrimination into the constitution is a shameful failure of leadership for any candidate of any party. There is no 'respect' or 'dignity' in having your family targeted for attack by politicians who are supposed to stand for liberty and justice for all."
LGBT Democrats Respond
Criticism from the Indiana Stonewall Democrats was rather muted, however. While the organization refused to endorse noted anti-gay Senate candidate Brad Ellsworth in the last national election and is currently mulling over whether or not they will support this year's candidate, conservative Congressman Joe Donnelly, they refused to say whether or not Gregg's attack on the LGBT community will disqualify him from endorsement consideration.
"We are thrilled with the president's evolution on this important civil rights issue but recognize that not everyone is there yet," said President Aaron Schaler. "The president has had four plus years to evolve and the LGBT community hopes that with time and conversations that the next governor of Indiana will come to the same conclusion."
"It will be hard for the LGBT community and their supporters to find a statewide voice when it comes to the right of freedom to marry, unfortunately both Democratic and Republican candidates for governor support a constitutional amendment banning the freedom to marry the man or women of choice," he continued. "ISD will be continuing our dialogue with John Gregg about the importance of protections for the LGBT community and the harm that an anti-gay marriage amendment will do to those that do have existing protections through their job or domestic partner benefits."
National Stonewall Democrats Executive Director Jerame Davis, a former Vice President of the Indiana chapter, was not as restrained in expressing his disappointment.
"As a Hoosier ex-patriot and a Democrat, I couldn't be more disappointed in John Gregg's regressive position on the freedom to marry," Davis said. "Staking out the most extreme position possible, Gregg sounds more like his Republican opponent than a principled Democrat. What choice is John Gregg giving equality-minded Hoosiers when he uses the same language and adopts the same position as a rabid culture warrior like Mike Pence?"
Gregg on LGBT and Progressive Issues
Jacobs, however, disagreed that the two candidates' positions were identical on LGBT rights. "The difference between John and Congressman Pence on this issue is that John believes our government in Indiana should be focused on creating job opportunities and improving education, not trying to legislate social issues," she said. "John also supports having strong hate crime legislation which includes members of the LGBT community while Congressman Pence has voted against hate crime legislation twice."
Hate crimes legislation passed nationally in 2009. While Pence voted against passage, Gregg has never served in Congress to have a vote on the record. Further requests for clarification on why Gregg would list his support for an already passed bill went unanswered. During Gregg's tenure as Indiana Speaker of the House, he didn't press for passage of a state-level hate crimes law. The state is one of five that doesn't have its own version of the national law.
Recent polling has shown that over 50 percent of Americans now support gays' and lesbians' freedom to marry. A 2011 poll of Hoosiers found that more voters opposed the proposed amendment than favored it.
Gregg seems to be bucking all of the traditional Democratic base. He has announced his opposition to women's right to choose and refused to condemn the state's new "right to work" law. In response to questions, Gregg has echoed his statement that each is a "divisive issue" and refused to further explain his positions.
A quick look at Gregg's campaign website shows absolutely nothing under the "Issues" section. From the looks of the campaign's recent strategy to alienate the Democratic base, it seems he could easily copy Republican Mike Pence's.