INDIANAPOLIS – Twenty-three Republicans joined 29 Democrats voting in a bipartisan fashion Monday to remove the contentious second sentence of the proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.
The 52-43 tally – with five members excused – sends the altered proposal to the full House for a vote possibly today.
The vote came after a short but intense debate, and was met with cheering outside the House by Hoosiers opposing the gay marriage ban.
“You can be safe or you can be brave,” said Rep. Kevin Mahan, R-Hartford City. “I choose to be brave.”
He said while his constituents believe in the traditional definition of marriage being between one man and one woman, support wanes when they realize the second sentence of the proposed amendment would prohibit the enactment of civil unions.
The measure 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 went further, saying: “a legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized.”
The language would ban civil unions, and some opponents also believe the language could block universities and private businesses from offering insurance to same-sex partners of employees.
“I believe (House Joint Resolution 3) as written is the right public policy for the state,” said Rep. Eric Turner, R-Cicero, author of the proposal. “The second sentence simply prevents marriage under another name.”
He added that removing the sentence prolongs the debate for several years.
That’s because a constitutional amendment must pass two separately elected legislatures. That would mean another vote in 2015 if the language remained. The earliest it could go to a statewide referendum would be 2016.
Some have argued the proposed amendment could still go to the ballot this year because the language of the first sentence will have passed twice – 2011 and 2014.
But the change House members made Monday did more than just delete a line. It specifically referred the proposal to the next General Assembly for reconsideration and agreement.
If the House sends the revamped amendment to the Senate, that chamber also could restore the original language.
Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, was asked about the possibility Friday and initially said, “I think we probably would honor the version that comes over from the House.”
But he added that when it comes to the Senate floor, it’s open to amendment, so “a reverse could happen. It’s really up to the will of the senators here, and it will be their decision, Republican and Democrat.”
During House debate, Rep. Woody Burton, R-Whiteland, argued against changing the wording, saying Hoosiers want the ability to vote on marriage. “All we’re doing is killing legislation many of us have worked hard to accomplish,” he said.
But those who wanted the second sentence removed said the process will move forward and Hoosiers will still have their say.
Rep. Ed Clere, R-New Albany, said this gives lawmakers and their constituents more time to analyze the measure “rather than rushing to meet the expiration date on an amendment whose time has already passed.”