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House panel delays vote on gay amendment

– The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee unexpectedly delayed a vote Monday on the proposed constitutional ban on gay marriage and civil unions

Rep. Greg Steuerwald, R-Danville, said committee members wanted time to reflect on the more than three hours of testimony given on the matter.

The surprise postponement spurred talk that Republicans were unsure they had enough votes to get the measure out of committee.

Seven votes are needed. The four Democrats are on record as voting against.

That means Republicans can lose only two members out of the remaining nine for it to pass.

Several members – including Rep. Dan Leonard, R-Huntington – are still undecided publicly.

Leonard said Steuerwald asked him what his vote would be and Leonard refused to say.

“Wait till I push the button,” he said.

Rep. Casey Cox, R-Fort Wayne, said the testimony was informative and he is still inclined to vote yes in committee so that it moves to the full House.

He said he would like to consider amendments on the floor, including removing the second sentence of the proposal. Doing so would restart the constitutional process, pushing a public vote until 2016 at the earliest.

House Joint Resolution 3 says “only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Indiana,” which is the same as state law.

But the second line goes further, saying “A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized.”

Opponents believe the second sentence bans future civil unions but also that it could affect universities or businesses giving health care benefits to same-sex couples; could nullify human rights ordinances protecting gays and lesbians and could even strip domestic violence laws affecting unmarried individuals.

House Bill 1153 – also carried by Rep. Eric Turner, R-Cicero – attempts to eliminate concerns in these areas.

Supporters contend the constitutional amendment is necessary to stop an activist judge from overturning Indiana’s law. It has been upheld in the past.

Several hundred Hoosiers attended the House Judiciary Committee meeting and at times there were cheering, crying and laughing.

Twenty-nine states have constitutional amendments defining marriage as between one man and women. Indiana is one of only four states with a state law but no constitutional amendment.

Marya Rose, vice president at Cummins Inc., said her company opposes the bill because top talent is reluctant to move to places that do not embrace diversity. She said Cummins has already had employees ask for transfers to states that are more tolerant.

“We will be reluctant to continue to add jobs to Indiana if our state is a less welcoming and inclusive place for our employees,” she said.

Kody Tinnel, a gay conservative from Fort Wayne, called the amendment an unnecessary intrusion that doesn’t represent the Republican view of limited government. And he said it’s taking up limited legislative time.

He is in a five-year relationship with his partner, Corey, and both have serious concerns about how the amendment will affect their lives.

“Corey and I should be treated like every other loving, committed couple in Indiana,” Tinnel said.

The opponents wrapped up their coordinated testimony with well-known Republican lawyer Peter Rusthoven, who has constitutional expertise.

He focused on the ambiguity of the second sentence – even with the so-called clarifying bill.

“We are turning future decisions about what will and will not be recognized in Indiana to the courts,” Rusthoven said.

He said House Bill 1153 can’t be used to explain what an earlier legislature – with up to 20 different members – meant when the initial vote was taken in 2011.

The proponents had their own big-time Republican lawyer – Jim Bopp – who has handled constitutional cases at both the state and federal level.

“The benefit (to the companion bill) is it addresses the meaning of the amendment by the framers of the amendment,” he said. “That is exactly what the courts look to.”

He also said the reason opponents fight so hard against the constitutional amendment is they want the opportunity to more easily change the definition of marriage in statute in the near future.

Reen Gutgsell, of Jasper, testified about being a Catholic lesbian who didn’t come out until the age of 38.

“Most gay people look at the institution of marriage as a civil right. I question that. Marriage in the Catholic church is a sacrament,” she said.

Gutgsell added that she isn’t saying gay couples can’t raise a child “but how does that couple explain morals and values to that child?”

Eric Miller, founder of the conservative group Advance America, said Hoosiers deserve the opportunity to vote on the amendment in November.

“There’s no question that if HJR3 passes without amendment that the people of Indiana will be able to make an informed decision,” he said. “I trust the people of Indiana to make the right decision.”

nkelly@jg.net

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