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Senate panel approves altered marriage ban

INDIANAPOLIS – Supporters of a constitutional gay marriage ban pressured Indiana Senators Monday to restore a controversial provision that would also ban civil unions in the future.

It was the focus of nearly everyone who testified in favor of the measure.

The Indiana House removed the language in that chamber and it passed 57-40.

The Senate Rules Committee heard more than three hours of testimony and made no changes to House Joint Resolution 3 before passing it by a party line vote of 8-4, with Republicans in support.

Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, was the only member to comment, saying he was taken by opponents’ testimony on the negative perception the debate will have on the state and its economy.

“HJR3 is an idea who time has come and gone,” he said.

The decision on whether to add the second sentence back into the resolution will be up to all 50 Indiana senators, with Thursday the expected day the chamber will take up the bill for possible changes.

Curt Smith, president of the Indiana Family Institute, said it’s not enough to simply define marriage – “you have to defend marriage.”

And he said “given the limited utility” his group would rather see the marriage amendment defeated and not placed on the ballot if the civil union language isn’t restored.

House Joint Resolution 3 currently 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 a second sentence of the proposal that was removed went further, saying: “a legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized.”

That provision 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.

But supporters say constitutional amendments in other states that don’t have the second sentence are more likely to be overturned by judges.

Doug Mainwaring, a gay man who previously supported same-sex marriage, said civil unions “will be exploited as a stepping stone to unraveling marriage altogether.”

Although Mainwaring is gay, he has returned back to his wife and remains married. Mainwaring said he and his wife are trying to put their marriage back together.

The content of the amendment greatly affects the process.

If the sentence is added back in and the House approves – which is not a foregone conclusion – the proposal would go to Hoosiers for final approval in November.

If the measure remains as is and is passed by the full Senate, another legislature would need to pass it in 2015 before a public vote in 2016.

Supporters of the measure came out in large numbers for the first time this session, as members of local black churches carried signs in the hallway and prayed for the amendment in its original form.

The bipartisan coalition Freedom Indiana – which has been working against the resolution – showed up in its traditional red and bearing signs calling for “liberty for all Hoosiers.”

Jennifer Fisher, a Fort Wayne business recruiter, testified that the proposal will make it harder to lure professionals here to work. She also said she and her lesbian partner are preparing to start a family and she is scared what the amendment might mean.

“I ask you to stand up for the minority,” she said, noting many times in the country’s history where the government had to go against the popular opinion of citizens to protect basic human rights.

Phil Cooper, A Bloomington father of a lesbian, asked the committee to keep his daughter “from being further denigrated as a second class citizen.”

He said state law already means she can’t get married. A constitutional amendment with a civil union ban will mean her loving relationship can never be recognized.

“Do not take this additional step to entrench institutional discrimination into Indiana’s Constitution,” Cooper said.

nkelly@jg.net

Roll call

How members of the Indiana Senate Rules Committee voted in the 8-4 vote to approve a proposal that would place Indiana's gay marriage in the state constitution:

REPUBLICANS VOTING YES: Charbonneau, Eckerty, Hershman, Kruse, Long, Merritt, Steele, Wyss.

DEMOCRATS VOTING NO: Arnold, Breaux, Hume, Lanane.

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