2014 Indiana General Assembly

Marriage amendment set for Senate showdown

2014-02-12T18:30:00Z 2014-02-13T11:53:38Z Marriage amendment set for Senate showdownDan Carden dan.carden@nwi.com, (317) 637-9078 nwitimes.com
February 12, 2014 6:30 pm  • 

INDIANAPOLIS | The Republican-controlled Senate is expected to decide Thursday whether to reinsert a prohibition on civil unions into House Joint Resolution 3, a proposed amendment to Indiana's Constitution that would ban gay marriage. State law already prohibits gay marriage.

GOP senators met behind closed doors discussing the issue for nearly three hours Tuesday. They are set for another 90-minute meeting immediately prior to Thursday's 12:30 p.m. region time Senate session.

The entire Indiana gay marriage fight may be for naught.

A federal judge in Kentucky ruled Wednesday that state's marriage amendment, which is identical to Indiana's proposed two-sentence amendment, violates the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of equal protection of the laws and struck it down.

The Indiana Republican senators were unusually mum Wednesday about what was said during their meeting. Statehouse rumors of what could happen Thursday seemed to cover every possible procedural option.

It is widely expected there will be an attempt to undo the House-approved deletion of the proposed amendment's second sentence, which reads: "A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized."

The Republican-controlled House eliminated that after receiving legal advice it likely does more than just bar civil unions for gay couples.

It also could prohibit companies from offering benefits to the same-sex domestic partners of their employees and may affect a host of other like-marriage arrangements.

Senate restoration of the second sentence is necessary to get the proposal back on track toward a vote by Hoosiers this November on whether to ratify or reject the amendment.

That's because the Indiana Constitution requires an amendment be approved by two separately elected Legislatures before going to the voters. The two-sentence marriage amendment overwhelmingly passed the 2011 Republican-controlled General Assembly.

This year's House-approved proposal contains just the first sentence: "Only a marriage between one (1) man and one (1) woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Indiana."

If the Senate restores the second sentence Thursday, and next week gives final approval to the two-sentence amendment, it will go back to the House for lawmakers there to decide whether to accept the Senate change — which could put it on the ballot this year.

But state Rep. Linda Lawson, D-Hammond, said the Senate putting the second sentence back in would cause a civil war among the 69 House Republicans, after 23 of them joined 29 Democrats to take it out.

"They've got a house divided," Lawson said. "If anything comes over from the Senate side ... it will be a mess."

However, if the Senate does not reinsert the second sentence, the marriage debate effectively is over for now.

Senate approval of the one-sentence amendment next week would forward that proposal to the 2015-16 General Assembly for them to decide whether to put it on the 2016 general election ballot.

The Senate also could vote down the one-sentence amendment and terminate the decadelong debate for once and for all.

In Wednesday's Kentucky federal ruling, Judge John Heyburn II, a 1992 appointee of Republican President George H.W. Bush, also ruled Kentucky's state laws limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples and barring recognition of gay marriages performed elsewhere are unconstitutional. Indiana has similar laws on its books.

"While Kentucky unquestionably has the power to regulate the recognition of civil marriages, those regulations must comply with the Constitution of the United States," Heyburn said. "It is clear that Kentucky's laws treat gay and lesbian persons differently in a way that demeans them."

Heyburn said he will determine at a later date what is required by Kentucky to remedy the constitutional violation.

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