INDIANAPOLIS – Nine Republicans moved a proposed constitutional gay marriage ban out of committee Wednesday night – setting up a much-anticipated full House vote on the measure next week.
All three Democrats on the House Elections Committee voted no, including Rep. Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne.
Rep. Casey Cox, R-Fort Wayne, voted yes but said he is reserving his right to vote against the measure later if a contentious second sentence isn’t removed.
The initial passage came after a political maneuver by House Speaker Brian Bosma to shift it to the elections panel, which saved the proposal from defeat.
It was originally heard in the Judiciary Committee last week but stalled when leadership realized several Republicans might vote no.
The legislature first approved the proposed amendment in 2011. If it passes this year then voters would get final say on the November ballot.
Much of the testimony during the four-hour hearing was repetitive from last week though there were a few new speakers.
“I am a typical Hoosier. I am also a gay man,” said Jesse Hawk of Fort Wayne. “Currently Indiana is considering an amendment that has me terrified to be a Hoosier.”
He said he is worried about his and his partners’ rights – especially on medical matters.
During the hearing, Chairman Milo Smith, R-Columbus, ordered one opponent removed from the gallery for giving the thumbs-down sign during testimony.
Later, those against the amendment in the gallery used the deaf sign for cheering to silently signal support for those testifying in opposition.
Indiana law already defines marriage as between one man and woman. But supporters of the measure contend a constitutional amendment would fortify the law against a state legal challenge.
The constitutional proposal, though, goes further by adding a second sentence that would prohibit civil unions in the future. It says “a legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized."
The language would clearly prohibit future lawmakers from enacting civil unions and some opponents fear it could have further negative impacts.
Cox said he would like to see the sentence removed on second reading but isn’t ready to offer an amendment to do so.
Conventional wisdom is that removing the line would start the constitutional process over again and push a public vote until 2016.
GOP leaders – including Gov. Mike Pence – have sought an end to the debate this year.
Cox said even though the issue has been around for more than a decade he is new to the debate and acknowledged that some people have valid concerns.
The bill’s author encouraged members not to focus on their personal feelings about the amendment but to support the measure in order to send it to Hoosier voters.
“I believe the future of marriage in Indiana belongs in the hands of Hoosier voters – not judges, not media, not activists,” said Rep. Eric Turner, R-Cicero.