Republican lawmakers in Indiana have resumed their push for a constitutional amendment that would shore up an existing state law banning gay marriage.
A GOP-ruled House committee voted 8-4 along party lines Monday to advance the proposal, which now moves to the full House for consideration.
The amendment states that only marriage between one man and one woman is valid in Indiana, and prohibits civil unions by stating that a legal status "substantially similar" to marriage for unmarried people is not valid.
Constitutional amendments must go through two separate Legislatures before being put to a public vote, and an amendment banning gay marriage passed the General Assembly in 2005 when Republicans controlled the House and Senate. But in 2006, Democrats won control of the House and the proposal never cleared that chamber again, although some Democrats support the amendment.
This year — with Republicans back in control of the House and Senate — the amendment is back. And the arguments the House committee heard Monday were largely the same as in previous years.
Amendment supporters said traditional heterosexual marriage is best for raising children, and stress that the amendment is needed to prevent courts from overturning the Indiana state law that already forbids gay marriage.
Rep. Dave Cheatham, a Democrat from North Vernon who is one of the sponsors of the amendment, said marriage is so important that the state's constitution should be amended to protect it.
"This is a foundational, fundamental issue," he said.
Micah Clark, a director with the American Family Association of Indiana, said homosexuals are the minority and shouldn't have the right to redefine marriage for the people of Indiana.
"If any two people can marry, then marriage does not mean much," he said.
Opponents said the amendment seeks to write discrimination into the state's constitution.
Jessica Wilch, the president of Indiana Equality, said the resolution's provision barring civil unions would strip any hope of recognition of committed couples to enjoy some of the rights that married couples take for granted.
Cynthia Conley, an assistant professor at Ball State University, said state lawmakers were wasting time by debating an amendment to forbid something that is already forbidden by state law. Conley, who said she married her partner in Canada, said she and her wife shouldn't have to explain to her 11-year-old daughter that legislative leaders are placing intolerance at the top of their agenda.
"She, no less than any other Hoosier child, represents our future," Conley said of her daughter. "She deserves to have parents who are not treated like second class citizens."
Some Democrats suggested that even debating the amendment was nothing more than a political ploy.
"There are many huge economic issues that we could be dealing with," said Rep. Ed DeLaney, D-Indianapolis. "It's an unfortunate waste of our time."
If the full House approves the proposed amendment as expected, it would move to the Republican-led Senate, where it has met little resistance in previous years. If both chambers pass the proposal, it would have to pass again in 2013 or 2014 in order to get on the ballot in 2014.