2014 Indiana General Assembly

Marriage amendment fight begins in Indiana House

2014-01-09T17:30:00Z 2014-01-10T11:12:11Z Marriage amendment fight begins in Indiana HouseDan Carden dan.carden@nwi.com, (317) 637-9078 nwitimes.com
January 09, 2014 5:30 pm  • 

INDIANAPOLIS | The marriage amendment and an unprecedented companion measure aimed at limiting the impact of the broadly worded amendment were filed Thursday in the Indiana House by state Rep. Eric Turner, R-Cicero. 

The House Judiciary Committee is set to review and likely vote on both items Monday. Approval by the committee, which is expected, will move the proposals to the Republican-controlled House for a vote, possibly as soon as next week, that could send them to the Republican-controlled Senate.

The amendment, officially numbered House Joint Resolution 3, contains the exact language approved by the Republican-controlled General Assembly as House Joint Resolution 6 in 2011. The Indiana Constitution requires two separately elected legislatures approve a constitutional amendment before it is submitted to Hoosier voters for ratification or rejection.

It states, "Only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Indiana. A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized."

The second sentence, which would prohibit the state from ever establishing civil unions for same-sex — or opposite-sex — couples, and also has been interpreted to ban domestic partnerships and related benefits, is the basis for Turner's companion measure, House Bill 1153.

That legislation declares the intent of the General Assembly concerning the second sentence is not to interfere with employer benefits arrangements or restrict equal access to education, employment or public places.

It also says the amendment should not be construed to invalidate contracts between unmarried partners or bar police from enforcing domestic violence laws if a same-sex couple is involved.

House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said he hopes the companion legislation will blunt some of the criticism of the marriage amendment and guide the judges who likely will have to rule on cases involving the amendment.

"It seemed to make a lot of sense to address the issues — still making it quite clear civil unions are not allowed," Bosma said. "Define it as a man and a woman, but remove these concerns that people validly are raising in most cases."

House Democratic Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, said the companion proposal only confuses the issue. He said the best way for the House to handle the poorly worded marriage amendment is to junk it.

"It's ambiguous whether judges can even consider things like legislative intent in Indiana," Pelath said. "And it's certainly ambiguous whether you, through regular law, can restate or redefine what's in the higher document of the Constitution."

Pelath said an activist conservative judge could interpret the plain language of the amendment in a way that forces Indiana University, or even private employers, to stop providing health benefits to employees' same-sex partners.

Megan Robertson, the Portage native leading Freedom Indiana, a business-backed group opposing the marriage amendment, said it's great the amendment's sponsors finally have realized their proposal is "deeply flawed."

"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," Robertson said.

Advance America, a self-described "pro-family" and "pro-church" organization fighting for the amendment, is airing television ads in several Indiana markets urging Hoosiers to call members of the House Judiciary Committee this weekend and urge a yes vote during Monday's hearing.

State Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, the only region lawmaker on that panel, said he plans to vote against the marriage amendment and its companion legislation.

"We already in the law established that marriage is between a man and a woman, and I believe that personally," Smith said. "To put it into the Constitution, I just don't think it's necessary."

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