INDIANAPOLIS | The Republican leaders of the Indiana House and Senate have hinted they will delay voting on a proposed state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and civil unions until after the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the issue in June.
Senate President David Long, R-Fort Wayne, and House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said a final decision on whether to vote this year will be made by their party caucuses next week, but they are personally inclined to wait and see what the court decides.
"There's a lot of unpredictability with this Supreme Court and that in itself raises questions about what could come out of the court," said Long, citing the 2012 ruling upholding the constitutionality of the health care legislation dubbed Obamacare. "The history of this court, the recent history, says to expect the unexpected."
A Republican-controlled Legislature approved the proposed amendment banning gay marriage in 2011. The amendment must be approved by the House and Senate a second time in 2013 or 2014 for the amendment to be sent to voters for ratification at the November 2014 general election.
State law already prohibits gay marriage.
However, that law and the proposed amendment could be declared void by the U.S. Supreme Court depending on its rulings in two gay rights cases set for oral argument in March.
The first case challenges the federal Defense of Marriage Act, a law limiting marriage to opposite sex couples and permitting states to not recognize gay marriages performed in other states. The other challenges a voter-approved California constitutional amendment defining marriage as being between one man and one woman.
Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller, a Republican, has filed friend-of-the-court briefs in both cases urging the nation's high court to respect state sovereignty and let each state's citizens define marriage, even if they choose to allow gay marriage.
"This legal position does not discriminate against the right of any individual to choose their partner nor discourage same-sex couples from providing loving and stable family environments for children," Zoeller said. "It is a defense of the legal ability of the people through their elected representatives to make a policy choice."
The legislative sponsors of the Indiana amendment, state Rep. Eric Turner, R-Cicero, and state Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, said they see no problem with the General Assembly voting on gay marriage before the Supreme Court decides the issue.
Other lawmakers have pointed out that once a constitutional amendment is approved twice by the Legislature, it must be sent to Hoosier voters for ratification and cannot be recalled even if — as is possible in this case — the amendment itself is found to be unconstitutional.
House Democratic Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, said he expects the Legislature's possible amendment vote will be put off until at least next year.
"That shows you have far we have come," Pelath said. "I'm glad that times have changed where we realize that every time a hot-button social issue comes along we don't have to amend our state's highest document."