INDIANAPOLIS – Republicans threw a new wrinkle into the already-controversial debate over prohibiting gay marriage in the Indiana Constitution by introducing a separate bill Thursday to clarify the intent of the ban.
The 2 1/2-page House Bill 1153 seeks to make clear the legislative intent behind a two-sentence constitutional amendment.
The companion bill could help garner support from wavering lawmakers and pre-empt an adverse judicial ruling, leaders said.
“It takes the guesswork out,” said Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne.
But just after its introduction the GOP leaders of the Indiana House and Senate – both lawyers – couldn’t agree on whether the constitutional ban would bar future civil unions.
Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma said civil unions would not be allowed in Indiana but domestic partnerships would be. Long said he wasn’t clear if civil unions would be prohibited in the future.
“They’ve got some sort of monster they’ve created and now they’re trying to make the monster prettier,” said Senate Democrat Leader Tim Lanane, of Anderson.
Lawmakers passed the constitutional prohibition on gay marriage in 2011 but must do so a second time this year to send it to the public in November for final approval.
There was no bill on the amendment’s intent in 2011 when the legislature – with a number of different members – voted on it.
Long called the clarifying bill “unprecedented” but said it was necessary to allay some fears of what the amendment does and doesn’t do.
The proposed amendment says “only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Indiana,” which is the same as state law.
But the second line goes further, saying “A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized.”
Opponents believe the second sentence clearly bans future civil unions but also that it could affect universities or businesses giving health care benefits to same-sex couples; could nullify human rights ordinances protecting gays and lesbians and could even strip domestic violence laws protecting unmarried individuals.
House Bill 1153 – carried by Rep. Eric Turner, R-Cicero – attempts to eliminate concerns in these areas. Turner also authored the ban in House Joint Resolution 3, known previously as HJR6.
“There are some valid questions raised about the second sentence of the amendment. There have also been some questions raised – I’d call them red herrings,” Bosma said. “So it seemed to make a lot of sense to address the issues.”
Democrats pointed out that a bill doesn’t trump the Indiana Constitution. They said a judge could rule the bill itself violates the state’s highest document. Or in five years the legislature could change or repeal the “intent.”
“Supporters of the amendment seem to finally understand that the language they want to permanently insert into our state’s founding document is deeply flawed,” said Megan Robertson, campaign manager for Freedom Indiana, a bipartisan coalition fighting the proposed amendment.
“Unfortunately, instead of addressing the amendment’s defects through proper channels, they’re trying to sidestep and obfuscate the process by introducing a bill they think explains away the potential harm to Hoosier families.”
She said the solution is simple – scrap the current language and start over. But Bosma said it’s time to bring the decade-long discussion to a close one way or another.
The first hearing on HJR3 and the clarifying bill will be Monday at 10 a.m. before the House Judiciary Committee.
There are 13 members on the panel that will have an initial vote on the ban.
Of those members, seven supported the measure when it passed in 2011. They include Rep. Dan Leonard, R-Huntington, who this year has refused to commit. He said his district is deeply divided and he wants to hear the debate.
Rep. Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend, also voted “yes” last time and said he will reverse course this year.
“It also bans civil unions and that shows ill will,” he said. “I will oppose it.”
Three others on the panel voted against the bill in 2011 and are sticking with their votes.
And there are three new members – all of whom appear to be leaning toward yes.
Rep. Casey Cox, R-Fort Wayne, said he had heard from constituents on both sides and right now he is “inclined to allow it to go to the floor.”