In his 2012 campaign, Gregg supported a proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, and told the editorial board of The Indianapolis Star, "I've never hidden from my conservative position on social issues." In the 2006 campaign for his former House seat, Hill ran a TV ad stating "marriage between a man and woman is sacred."
In 2015, some Democrats now question whether Gregg in particular can serve as an effective foil against Pence on any LGBT rights issue given his history same-sex marriage, questioning whether he's capable of building on any momentum the party gained after the religious freedom debate. In his campaign launch video this year, Gregg emphasized Pence's weakness on the issue, saying Pence "managed to alienate the entire country," and called it "an embarrassment, and wrong."
But Aaron Schaler, former president of the Indiana Stonewall Democrats, saw Gregg's launch message as disingenuous. "I think John Gregg is trying to run off of Freedom Indiana's success with the religious freedom bill. That's all he's trying to do. He's just piggybacking off someone else," Schaler said.
Gregg campaign spokesman Jeff Harris hopes voters will evaluate Gregg based on what he's said since the start of the most recent campaign, and not on the past. "He fully supports repealing RFRA, the religious freedom bill. He supports expanding civil rights protections to include LGBT as well as sexual identity, and he has stated over and over again that he's going to be focusing on economic issues. In Indiana the law of the land is to allow same-sex marriage, and he supports that, and as governor he's not going to focus on social issues, he's moving ahead," Harris said.
"He's there on those issues for those folks, and there's a very small minority of people who want to use that degrade his position or try to lump him in a box that he's not there on," Harris continued.
In a sign of the changing times, Gregg's moderation on social issues was thought to be part of what helped him run competitively against Pence in 2012. "Now here we are three years later and a majority of the Democratic Party here in Indiana clearly supports gay marriage. So, it has moved. The question is how much has Gregg moved," said Dan Parker, a former chairman of the Indiana Democratic Party.
"There has been a tremendous pushback against his candidacy coming from the progressive left. Actually, I wouldn't even say it's the left anymore, it's the left-center of the Democratic Party. There's just a recognition from the entire party that there are certain issues that you need to be with the majority of the party on," Parker said.
Gregg will face at least two opponents in the Democratic primary, both of whom are farther to the left on social issues and support gay marriage. State Sen. Karen Tallian announced her candidacy in May, and Indiana's school superintendent Glenda Ritz is expected to join the Democratic primary on Thursday. In Ritz's brief political career she has rarely weighed in on issues outside those involving education policy, but Ritz spokesperson Leslie Barnes said Ritz "absolutely" supports same-sex marriage. Barnes also noted Ritz supports abortion rights.