By MAUREEN HAYDEN
A call by Democratic leaders in the Statehouse for their Republican counterparts to pull the controversial same-sex marriage ban amendment off the legislative table was turned back during Tuesday during an organizational session in advance of the 2014 session.
Early Tuesday, House Minority Leader Scott Pelath and Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane said GOP leaders should stop House Joint Resolution 6 in its tracks by refusing to assign the measure to a committee when the General Assembly convenes in early January.
Pelath said Republicans, who have a super-majority in the legislature, should be working to address critical issues such as the state’s unemployment rate which has been stuck around 8 percent.
“Unfortunately, what is already dominating the 2014 session is this ugly and divisive debate on marriage equality. It has to stop, and it has to stop today,” Pelath said.
But both House Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate President David Long said the proposed amendment will go forward, with Long predicting that it will pass the House before arriving in the Senate later in the session.
"From my own personal perspective, and I’ve said this elsewhere, that decision shouldn’t be made in a corporate boardroom, it shouldn’t be made in a judicial chamber, it shouldn’t be made in a university president’s office, and quite frankly, it shouldn’t be made in a single legislative leader’s office as well,” said Bosma during a speech on the House floor Tuesday. “It needs to be made by this body, and we will make that decision together.”
Both Republican leaders said there may be an effort to rewrite the language of the amendment to exclude its prohibition on civil unions. Currently, House Joint Resolution 6 includes the state’s current ban on same-sex marriage and expands the ban to prevent future legislatures from enacting laws that would allow legal protections for unmarried couples in civil unions or domestic partnerships.
Of the second part of the proposed amendment, Long said: “I think there’s a lot of, ‘I wish we hadn’t put it in there because we see society changing.’ Young people feel differently than older people on this issue.”
Long said his own two sons, who are age 21 and 26, have a different opinion on the marriage ban amendment than he does, but declined to elaborate.
Long did raise concerns about changing the language of House Joint Resolution 6, because of the rules that cover amending the state constitution. Indiana law requires a proposed amendment be passed by two separate General Assemblies, then put to the public for a vote. The measure passed the first time in 2011; it has to pass again in 2014 for it to go on the November ballot.
Long said staff attorneys with the Legislative Services Agency, the legislature’s non-partisan research arm, have told him that changing the language of the resolution would raise legal questions about its constitutionality.
“I fully expect to see it (HJR-6) on the floor of the House and expect it will pass the House,” Long said. “And if it does, we’ll have a full discussion in the Senate.”
Lanane, who leads a small Democratic caucus in the Senate, said he was disappointed that legislative leaders decided not to kill the amendment.
“It would be the courageous thing to do,” Lanane said.
The pressure is on Republican leaders to keep the measure alive. Indiana already has a ban on same-sex marriage but Republican Gov. Mike Pence and social conservative organizations that have contributed heavily to GOP candidates argue that the law needs to be expanded to include a ban on civil union and locked in the constitution.
Both Lanane and Pelath acknowledged the politics of killing the resolution would be risky for GOP leaders, because it would alienate their socially conservative base.
Pelath said he had sympathy for House Speaker Brian Bosma, who has caucus members who fear they may be “primaried” — targeted for defeat by a fellow Republican in the next election, if they oppose HJR-6.
“I’m with him in understanding the difficulty of the issue,” Pelath said. When Democrats controlled the House, Pelath said he moved to kill HJR-6 three times. “I did it and lived to tell about it,” Pelath said. “He can do it and live to tell about it, too.”
GOP leaders are also under increasing pressure from the business community, higher education leaders, and some religious leaders who argue that HJR-6 harms Indiana’s “Hoosier Hospitality” image, especially with young people and outsiders.
For their part, Republican leaders have acknowledged recent independent polls that show increasing opposition to HJR-6, but say they won’t dictate to their members how to vote.
From the House floor Tuesday, Bosma promised the debate on the amendment would be civil. “We will do so with the recognition of the dignity of every Hoosier in here and elsewhere and also respecting each other’s strongly held positions,” Bosma said, before borrowing a phrase from Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address: “We need to discuss the issue with malice toward none and charity toward all.”
— Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for the CNHI newspapers in Indiana. She can be reached at email@example.com