INDIANAPOLIS | The Indiana House voted 52-43 on Monday to delete the controversial second sentence of the marriage amendment, likely restarting the multiyear amendment process and potentially postponing a public vote on the issue until at least 2016.
Cheers erupted from hundreds of red-shirted marriage amendment opponents seated in the House gallery and standing outside the chamber when the vote total flashed on the twin 80-inch screens at the front of the House at 5:01 p.m. region time.
"Today is a victory for the thousands of Hoosiers across our state who've shared their stories at the Statehouse and made it clear that HJR-3 does not reflect our shared values," Megan Robertson said.
Robertson is a Portage native leading Freedom Indiana, a business-backed group opposing the amendment, which officially is known as House Joint Resolution 3.
A total of 23 Republicans joined 29 Democrats in agreeing to remove the proposed amendment's second sentence, "A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized."
While the amendment's sponsor, state Rep. Eric Turner, R-Cicero, claimed the second sentence only was intended to prohibit civil unions or other like-marriage arrangements for same-sex couples, legal experts argued it also could bar employers from providing benefits to employees' same-sex partners, among other restrictions.
State Rep. Kevin Mahan, R-Hartford City, who supported the amendment in 2011, said his constituents told him they want to vote on the definition of marriage, not the second sentence whose meaning depends on a three-page list of exemptions contained in House Bill 1153.
"I believe in supporting good policy," Mahan said. "If we cannot understand in this body exactly what that second sentence means, how can we expect millions of Hoosiers to understand what it means when they go to the polls in November?"
House Democratic Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, said he was grateful enough "pragmatic" Republicans agreed with all House Democrats that "we need to be working on other issues and we shouldn't be trying to do harm to our friends and neighbors."
"There's work yet to be done, but you have to take a little bit of satisfaction in the fact that the House of Representatives stood up, in a bipartisan way, to remove some of the most onerous provisions," Pelath said.
Just three of Northwest Indiana's 13 representatives voted to keep the second sentence in the marriage amendment: state Reps. Tom Dermody, R-LaPorte; Doug Gutwein, R-Francesville; and Hal Slager, R-Schererville.
Dermody said, in contrast to Mahan, his constituents told him they want to vote on the amendment with both sentences included.
"If that's the question they want, that's the question they deserve to vote on," Dermody said. "So I voted to support what the district was telling me."
Slager said he just wants the marriage debate over, and the fastest way to make that happen would be to pass the amendment intact and allow Hoosier voters to ratify or reject it at the Nov. 4 general election.
House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, expects the House, possibly as soon as Tuesday, will vote to send the Republican-controlled Senate the revised amendment. It now reads: "Only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Indiana."
State Rep. Ed Clere, R-New Albany, the only Republican to vote against the amendment when it was first approved in 2011, said he hopes the House will instead kill the proposal once and for all.
"Make no mistake, deleting the second sentence will not fix HJR-3. The only way to fix HJR-3 would be to delete both sentences," Clere said.
If the House approves the revised amendment, Senate President David Long, R-Fort Wayne, has said the Senate "probably would honor" the House change, though he added the 50 senators do have the power to restore the second sentence to the amendment.
Should the Senate revive and approve the two-sentence amendment, it would have to be approved again by the House to go on the general election ballot this year.
Otherwise, Senate approval of only the first sentence would forward the proposed amendment to the General Assembly serving during 2015-16, which would decide whether to put the revised amendment on the 2016 ballot.
Indiana law already limits marriage to opposite-sex couples. A 2005 Court of Appeals ruling upheld the constitutionality of the state's marriage statute.