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January 27, 2014

Indiana House narrowly votes to trim marriage ban language

Action could restart the legislative process

INDIANAPOLIS — Gay couples in Indiana might eventually be able to enter into civil unions, but not marriages, under changes the House pushed Monday that could effectively delay a constitutional ban on same sex-weddings.

Opponents of the marriage ban got a temporary victory with a bipartisan vote to remove a sentence from the proposed constitutional amendment that would have barred civil unions in addition to marriages. Indiana law currently limits marriage to being between one man and one woman, but supporters are looking to strengthen that ban by placing it in the constitution.

If the altered amendment clears the House and eventually the Senate, it could restart the clock on the legislative process for amending the state constitution. Under the amendment process, the same measure must be approved in two consecutive sessions and then by voters, so the earliest approval date for a potential ban could be pushed back to 2016.

That change came through amendment offered Monday by State Rep. Randy Truitt, R-West Lafayette.

State Rep. Ed Clere, R-New Albany, filed similar amendments that didn’t get voted on because Truitt’s amendment prevailed. Clere voted for Truitt’s amendment, though likely will vote against HJR-3 today when it comes up for third reading.

“I think its critical that we slow down and look at what we’re doing,” Clere said Monday.

Clere was only Republican who voted against the resolution in 2011. He said more Republicans are now questioning the impact of HJR-3.

He said one of the game changers was the increasing pressure and presence of clergy who opposed HJR-3.

“There are lot of legislators hearing from members of the clergy, from senior citizens and from others they didn’t except to hear from. That’s been persuasive for a lot of members.

“They are hearing from ministers who are telling them: This is not a simple matter, from a religious point of view.”

Activists gathered outside the chamber cheered loudly after the 52-43 vote to remove the sentence from House Joint Resolution 3.

But much could change between now and the end of the 2014 legislative session, scheduled to wrap up in Mid-March.

Supporters of the marriage ban argued that removing the second sentence could also increase the chances of the state drawing a court challenge to the proposed constitutional amendment.

“I believe HJR 3, as written, is the right public policy for the state of Indiana,” said Rep. Eric Turner, R-Cicero, and the author of the marriage ban. “The second sentence simply prevent s marriage by any other name.”

The sentence has been a sticking point for many lawmakers, including some who have said they otherwise support banning gay marriage. Opponents have focused their efforts on striking the language and have argued that it could prevent employers from offering benefits to same-sex couples.

Supporters of the measure said Monday that similar language in other states hasn’t had that effect.

Twenty-three Republicans joined 29 Democrats to strip out the second sentence. Outright opponents of HJR 3 joined with lawmakers who said their concerns lies only with that second sentence to alter the measure.

“The only way to fix HJR 3 is to delete both sentences,” Clere said.

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