INDIANAPOLIS | Indiana is poised to become the front line in a state-by-state war over the definition of marriage following Wednesday's gay rights rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Shortly after the two decisions were released, leaders of the Indiana House and Senate Republican majorities and Republican Gov. Mike Pence announced they will push during the 2014 legislative session for a state constitutional amendment limiting marriage to one man and one woman -- and also prohibiting civil unions.
"I am confident the matter will come before the General Assembly and ultimately be placed on a referenda ballot for voter consideration," said House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis.
The proposed amendment, House Joint Resolution 6, was initially approved 70-26 by the House and 40-10 by the Senate in 2011. It must be re-approved by a majority in both chambers next year to be submitted to Hoosier voters for ratification at the Nov. 4, 2014, general election.
Pence, who has no official role in the amendment process, nevertheless vowed to support lawmakers who want to preserve opposite-sex marriage as a "unique institution" that "has served as the glue that holds families and societies together and so it should ever be."
That stance is at odds with a majority of Hoosier voters, according to a public opinion poll from November.
The Ball State University telephone survey of 602 Indiana adults found 54 percent oppose a constitutional amendment prohibiting gay marriage and civil unions, 38 percent support the amendment and 8 percent said they don't know. The poll has a margin of error of plus-or-minus 4 percent.
The poll also found 45 percent of Hoosiers want the state law limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples repealed and gay marriage legalized in the state. An equal number want gay marriage to remain prohibited.
House Democratic Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, said given those results it would be wrong for the Republican-controlled Legislature to waste precious time writing discrimination into the constitution while many middle-class families still lack access to good jobs and schools.
"There is no need to muddy up our state's highest document with an amendment that is likely to be a blemish on Indiana's history," Pelath said. "Public support for marriage equality continues to grow at a time when any legal justification for inequality is withering."
At the same time, there is a question of whether the proposed Indiana amendment violates the federal constitution.
The U.S. Supreme Court's Hollingsworth v. Perry ruling focused mostly on the legal issue of who has standing, or justification, to bring a case to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
But the core of the decision upheld a federal district court ruling that found Proposition 8, the California constitutional amendment limiting marriage to one man and one woman, runs afoul of the U.S. Constitution's 14th Amendment by treating gays unequally.
"Moral disapproval alone is an improper basis on which to deny rights to gay men and lesbians," wrote Judge Vaughn Walker in striking down the California amendment. "The evidence shows conclusively that Proposition 8 enacts, without reason, a private moral view that same-sex couples are inferior to opposite-sex couples."
Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller, a Republican who supported the losing side in both gay rights cases decided Wednesday by the Supreme Court, declined to say how he would advise state lawmakers on the constitutionality of the proposed Indiana amendment.
"We are still reviewing the Supreme Court opinions as to their potential impact on the Legislature's policy-making authority," said Bryan Corbin, Zoeller's spokesman.
In any case, should Indiana lawmakers approve the proposed amendment, groups supporting and opposing it are standing by to take up the issue with voters.
The Indiana Family Institute, a gay marriage foe, said because the federal district court ruling throwing out the amendment limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples applies only in California, Hoosiers remain free to add a marriage amendment to their state constitution, and should.
"We believe voters – not activist judges – should decide the definition of marriage," said IFI President Curt Smith. "We also believe that the majority of Hoosiers understand that marriage between one man and one woman is the best union for the rearing and upbringing of children."
Indiana Equality Action, a leading gay rights group, believes state lawmakers should halt efforts to add a gay marriage and civil unions ban to the state constitution, but said it's ready to persuade voters to reject the amendment if it ends up on the ballot.
"Whatever the General Assembly decides, we will be prepared either to support their decision to abandon HJR6 or to fight the amendment in every community across our state," President Chris Paulsen said. "Hoosiers value kindness and love, and we all deserve to live in a state that doesn't write inequality into its constitution."