General Assembly should focus on real issues, not gay marriage

(August 6, 2013)

We have all had major problems to solve or difficult tasks to perform.  The dilemmas often seem so overwhelming and complex that we decide to avoid them as long as possible.  We reason that there are other things calling our attention.  In fact, we imagine that performing those less demanding jobs will bode well for our image.  In any case, it will look like we are busy, and we will be excused for postponing the larger issues at hand.

So it appears is the choice of our legislature.  There are daunting problems facing our State.  Indiana was one of seventeen states to see statistically significant increases in poverty rates from 2010 to 2011.  Presently there are 1,011,017 Hoosiers living in poverty and 2.24 million living below 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Guideline – a level required for self-sufficiency.

Poverty rates for Hoosier children under eighteen years old have increased since 2011.  A striking 45.9 percent of Hoosier children are low-income – a larger percentage share than neighboring states.

Indiana’s unemployment rate has been above the national average for eleven straight months.  Many who are employed are earning wages below the poverty line.  Seventy-one percent of all jobs are in occupations that pay less than what is required for economic autonomy.  Despite the high demand and need for child and elder care workers, many earn less than needed for self-sufficiency.  Indiana needs to create over 173,000 jobs to regain pre-recession employment.

Education is another area of major concern.  Just over twenty-one percent of Hoosiers have bachelor’s degrees, ranking our state the 46th in the nation.  Indiana is only one of eleven states that do not fund Pre-K programs. Congress’ inability to deal with our national budget has led to the loss of suitable child care for thousands of Hoosier families.  Studies confirm that children with preschool education have better reading and math skills and do better on tests.  Quality education is the key to improving employment rates and strengthening the economy. Investment in Pre-K programs has the potential to increase the likelihood that youngsters will excel in school, enroll in college and graduate, get jobs and pay taxes.

Indiana is a land of farms, yet 90 percent of our food is grown elsewhere and many Hoosiers go hungry.  Hunger affects one in six children and has a significant impact on their behavior, school performance and overall cognitive development.

With all these major problems before us, it would appear that we do not have the time to spend on other high profile but less momentous issues.  The Indiana legislature does not think so.  It threatens to focus on a marriage amendment that would define marriage exclusively as a union between a man and a woman, and to revisit concerns about Planned Parenthood funding and women’s access to contraception.

Why spend our time on poverty, unemployment, hunger and education to improve the standard of living for all Hoosiers when we can polarize our citizenry with a discussion of gay marriage?  Why tackle the significant issues that can make a better future for all our children, when we can inflame our communities by attempting to limit women’s rights to affordable health and prenatal care and by seeking to pass unconstitutional legislation restricting abortion?

We should tell our elected officials that we do not want to be bogged down in arguments over sensationalized issues like those in Texas, North Carolina and Ohio.  We do not want our leaders to just look busy.  We want them to busy themselves with finding solutions to the larger and real problems we face, so we may say with pride, this is our Indiana home.