Amid a roar of applause from the hundreds of gay-rights supporters gathered in a public gallery, the Indiana House voted Monday to strike a provision from a constitutional marriage amendment that would have banned civil unions in Indiana.
Members voted 52-43 – with 23 Republicans and 29 Democrats voting yes – to eliminate the amendment’s second sentence, which would have prohibited lawmakers from creating a legal union similar to marriage for same-sex couples.
The vote likely ensures that the constitutional amendment will not reach the public for a vote until at least 2016 – if at all. A constitutional amendment must be approved by two, separately elected legislatures to be placed on the ballot for ratification.
The amendment had been approved in 2011 with the civil unions language intact. Removing it starts the constitutional amendment clock again.
“Stripping the deeply flawed second sentence makes a bad amendment better, but we believe this amendment, in any form, has no place in our state’s founding document,” said Megan Robertson, campaign manager for Freedom Indiana, a group trying to defeat the constitutional amendment.
The constitutional amendment’s remaining language defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman. The House could vote on it as soon as Tuesday, which would send the measure to the Senate for consideration.
There, lawmakers could reinstate the second sentence, approve the proposal as is or defeat it.
House Speaker Brian Bosma – who had moved the amendment from one committee to another to ensure it would be considered by the full House – said he will vote yes when the amendment is eligible for passage.
“I’m confident there will be a vote,” Bosma said. “We haven’t walked away from this issue at any point. My two goals announced on Organization Day and reiterated on numerous issues were, first of all, that every member vote their conscious and that the entire body get to work on the bill together. And that’s exactly what happened.
“I’m just pleased to see democracy at work in a positive way on behalf of the people of Indiana.”
Rep. Randy Truitt, R- West Lafayette, proposed the change approved Monday and it led to powerful speeches from members of both sides of the aisle – and both sides of the issue. Lawmakers’ tones were largely respectful and determined.
House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D- Michigan City, expressed frustration that it took until now for some legislators to realize what he called the gravity of the situation. He pointed to polls that show Hoosiers are dramatically less supportive of the constitutional amendment – and particularly the ban on civil unions – than they had been even three years ago, when the amendment passed by a vote of 70-26 in the House and 40-10 in the Senate.
“We said that it was the wrong thing to do then,” Pelath said. “Now, just because the winds are blowing in a certain direction, some more people may have seen the light. But I want the record to show, that the caucus I lead understands that this was the wrong thing to do back when it wasn’t cool.”
Pelath said he wants the people of Indiana to know who has been opposed to the resolution all along.
“I’m going to continue to remind the people of Indiana who’s been with them and who hasn’t,” he said.
Actually, three years ago, many Democrats voted for the constitutional amendment, including former minority leader Pat Bauer. On Monday, all Democrats voted to strip the civil unions language.
Still, the change could not have passed without the support of Republicans.
Rep. Kevin Mahan, R-Hartford City, was among those who voted for the change, saying he was choosing “to be brave” after conversations with constituents left him with questions and few answers about the amendment’s second sentence.
“It seemed like the majority of those that support this amendment admitted that they wish the second sentence was not even in there,” Mahan said. “However what I do know is that the people from my district simply ask to be able to vote to define marriage between one man and one woman, period.”
Mahan said he will now vote to pass the constitutional amendment, even if it means lawmakers will have to approve it again in 2015 or 2016 to put it on the ballot.
“This is what the majority of Hoosiers want,” Mahan said. “Lets pass the amended bill out of the House and I’ll be more than happy to come back next year to support it again and get it to the voters.”
But Republicans were split. The constitutional amendment’s author – Rep. Eric Turner, R-Cicero – spoke against the language change.
“I know his amendment is well-intended and (Truitt) is very much trying to be helpful with this process and move this HJR 3 along,” Turner said. “However I think his method is doing exactly the opposite.”
Turner cited examples from other states that currently have statutes defining marriage as between one man and one woman. He said that in a majority of those states, a second sentence is included to prevent marriage in another name, and that they did not affect civil unions or anything similar.
“This house joint resolution, this constitutional amendment, does not affect that, it hasn’t in other states and it won’t here,” Turner said.
And he said stripping out the second sentence opens the amendment to lawsuits and “just prolongs this debate for another 2 or 3 years.”
“We’ve been debating this for 10 years,” Turner said. “I believe the public in Indiana is very much ready to engage on this, no matter what side you’re on.”
Supporters have said that pushing the amendment debate into future years boosts the chance that it will never be approved. That’s because a number of other states have been moving in the opposite direction – approving laws that legalize same sex marriage, rather than banning them.
Also, public opinion has been steadily moving toward approval of same-sex relationships.
Rep. Woody Burton, R-Whiteland, essentially acknowledged those concerns when he urged his colleagues to leave the constitutional amendment’s language as it was in 2011 so it could go on the ballot this November.
“It’s an issue of letting the people vote,” Burton said. “All it is doing is killing a piece of legislation that we’ve all worked very hard on to accomplish.”