Interest groups that commission polls tend to be told what they want to hear. Today's proof is from the Indiana Family Institute.
The institute, which favors a ban on gay marriage, says its new poll shows that almost two-thirds of likely Hoosier voters favor an amendment to the state constitution that defines marriage as being between one man and one woman.
Those results contrast markedly with a poll sponsored by Freedom Indiana, a coalition of gay rights and business groups, which found that registered voters were almost evenly split on the marriage amendment, with a slight but noticeable movement against it.
Of course the only poll that really counts, as the cliche goes, is how Hoosiers will end up actually voting. If the General Assembly moves, as expected, to approve it a second time, the amendment will go out for a statewide referendum in November 2014.
If the vote were held today, we expect it would be close but the amendment would go down in defeat. Gay marriage proponents are unified, but opponents are split. Even some who are against gay marriage think the current law banning it is sufficient and that the constitution should be for statements of general principle, not something as specific as a prohibition against a single practice. And some think the proposed amendment goes a step too far by saying the state can't recognize any status similar to marriage, such as civil unions. That could have implications for heterosexual couples as well as homosexual ones.
Our feeling is that the world wouldn't end no matter which way the referendum went.
If the amendment fails, there is still that state law to fall back on. If the Supreme Court comes along later and finds some hitherto undiscovered right to same-sex marriage, its action would void a constitutional amendment just as easily as it would void a state law.
If the amendment passes, civic leaders have warned of a backlash that could hurt Hoosier tourism and make it harder for businesses to recruit talented workers. But that concern seems a little overblown, since 31 other states already have gay marriage bans in their constitutions. Has anybody noticed a serious boycott of those states?
In the end, the very uncertainty over Hoosiers' true opinions is reason enough to go ahead and have the referendum. Some states, such as California, go a little overboard on referendums, which can result in a kind of unchecked mob rule by the majority. But on truly big issues like this, it is appropriate to find out what the public officially thinks.