INDIANAPOLIS – Going into week four of the legislative session, the constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage is doing exactly what leaders didn’t want – dragging on and distracting.
Meanwhile, Republican leaders have said it’s not a priority but their actions show differently – creating a clarifying companion bill; releasing new polling data and moving the measure out of a committee where it was most likely going to die.
Oh it was certainly my hope that we would be done with this discussion in a week but that’s OK, said GOP House Speaker Brian Bosma. It’s the democratic process. And the more discussion usually the better the decision.
All the focus so far has been on Bosma, whose crafty maneuvering has made sure the measure reaches the House floor this week.
The proposal and supplemental bill are eligible Monday for second reading amendments and a vote Tuesday by the full House if the author calls them.
I am surprised it’s still going on. I sort of thought it would take on right-to-work-type speed, said Rep. Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne. It’s what everyone’s talking about. It’s Speaker Bosma’s No. 1 priority, obviously.
He has championed this bill for a long, long time and can’t act like he hasn’t.
Right-to-work was passed several years ago on a speedy timeline with it being signed into law in early February.
Andrew Downs, director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics at IPFW, said Bosma made a tactical error not counting noses in the first committee it was assigned, a failure that has made the process unnecessarily messy.
Downs also said one of the most interesting things about watching the amendment has been seeing some lawmakers reconsider their decision from three years ago.
In Indiana, changing the state Constitution requires that two separately elected General Assemblies pass a measure before it goes to the voters for final approval or defeat.
The first legislative vote was in 2011. A vote this year sends it to the ballot in November. But philosophies on gay marriage have recently been shifting. And some members are analyzing whether their first vote was the best way to go.
That reinforces why the process for constitutional amendments is slow and arduous, Downs said. So we don’t make decisions in a heated moment. We are seeing exactly what the framers wanted.
The next big moment is whether the House votes to change the language on second reading.
The proposed amendment says Only a marriage between one (1) man and one (1) woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Indiana.
This language mirrors a state law already on the books.
But the second sentence of the proposal goes further, including banning 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.
Several Republicans think the second sentence goes too far and have expressed a desire to remove it. But no one has promised to offer an amendment to do so.
Bosma said it is up to members of his caucus to follow their conscience.
But some of them might be concerned about the politics of the vote. All the House members will be on record for or against the amendment before the Feb. 7 filing deadline for their seats.
Rep. Casey Cox, R-Fort Wayne, said he expects a primary challenge regardless because he was appointed in a caucus to fulfill a term.
My decision won’t be affected by politics, he said.
Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said he has heard things about primary threats but thinks it’s overblown.
I really don’t think there’s a posse of people out there waiting to file in case someone doesn’t vote a certain way, he said. The reality is if you are going to do this it’s a major decision, they will have made that decision a long time ago.
House Democratic Leader Scott Pelath said he knows some Republicans in the House want to offer an amendment to remove the sentence but I don’t know what the consequences for those members will be.
The Democratic members don’t have anything to fear from the speaker, he said. When you get within a caucus it becomes a little more difficult to stray from the herd.
Pelath has prepared an amendment to remove the second sentence but said he and his caucus will have to decide whether it will be offered.
He called it a tactical decision, noting it might be easier to defeat the proposal in the legislature or at the ballot box in November with the language considered confusing and unnecessary remaining.
Sen. Tom Wyss, R-Fort Wayne, said he supported the amendment in 2011 because of his deep religious convictions. But he has never been comfortable with the breadth of the second sentence.
I would really like to see it out, he said. I think I’m a yes. But I’m hopeful it gets changed.
Removing the second sentence is especially controversial because it most likely restarts the constitutional process – something Bosma and Gov. Mike Pence have vocally been against.
There are differing legal opinions but most people believe any change to the language would delay a public vote until 2016.
Bosma has said repeatedly that it’s time for the debate to end – a sort of now-or-never attitude.
He and others are relying heavily on saying the vote is less about the public policy and more about giving Hoosiers the right to vote on the issue.
It’s a way out for everybody. Now I can vote yes even though I disagree with the resolution, Downs said. If you are in a swing district you are going to need an out.