INDIANAPOLIS | Eight seconds of near silence, followed by the sharp bang of a wooden gavel and the roar of cheers and applause ended Indiana's marriage debate — for now.
In a surprise move, no member of the Republican-controlled Senate called for a vote Thursday to restore the 2011 language of the marriage amendment, House Joint Resolution 3, despite notice of intent to do so from state Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, and state Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel.
As a result, the proposal to add the state's existing ban on gay marriage and a new prohibition on civil unions to the Indiana Constitution cannot go on the ballot this November, as it will not have passed two separately elected Legislatures in identical form.
The Senate will vote Monday on whether to forward to the 2015-16 Legislature the marriage amendment revised and approved last month by the Republican-controlled House, which reads: "Only a marriage between one (1) man and one (1) woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Indiana."
The earliest Hoosiers could vote on whether to ratify or reject that proposal, assuming it passes the Senate and is approved again by the House and Senate in 2015 or 2016, is the November 2016 general election.
Republican Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann was presiding over the Senate at 1:15 p.m. region time when she announced that House Joint Resolution 3, the first item on the business calendar for the day, was open for changes.
She looked to the Republican supermajority seated in front of her and on her left, panned across the chamber to the right and then back at the Republicans before finally slamming her gavel down when no one stood to request a vote on restoring the original text of the marriage amendment.
Red-shirted marriage amendment opponents standing in the marble-walled hallway outside the Senate chamber then erupted in cheers of relief and ecstasy as they realized that months of phone calls, letters, Facebook postings and meetings with state lawmakers had paid off.
"This is a huge victory," said Megan Robertson, the Portage native leading Freedom Indiana, a business-backed group opposing the amendment. "If you had asked me six months ago, I would have said there's no way this would happen. To not even bring it up is a pretty big deal."
Senate President David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said Senate Republicans meeting privately over more than five hours Tuesday and Thursday concluded their best course was not trying to restore the amendment's House-deleted second sentence barring civil unions and all other like-marriage arrangements.
"It was my preference not to have the second sentence in there," Long said. "Personally, I'm not convinced it's necessary."
Long expects the Senate will approve the revised marriage amendment Monday, but said he hasn't taken a headcount.
Supporters of the two-sentence amendment said earlier this week they'd prefer the measure be killed off if only the first sentence was up for a final vote.
Long noted decisions by federal courts over the next three years probably will have the final say on the marriage issue, either in favor of state's rights, which he prefers, or a national standard under the Fourteenth Amendment that all marriages — gay and straight — must be treated equally.
He said GOP senators took notice of a Wednesday ruling by a federal judge in Kentucky who found that state's marriage amendment, which is identical to the proposed two sentence Indiana amendment, is unconstitutional because it treats gays and lesbians unequally in a way that demeans them.
State Sen. Lonnie Randolph, D-East Chicago, said he hopes the Senate will reject the revised marriage amendment Monday and end this debate once and for all.
"I've got an issue with people telling other people who they should associate with and who they should fall in love with," Randolph said. "Who are we to judge other people?"
State Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, refused to say how he would have voted on restoring the second sentence, or how he plans to vote Monday on forwarding the one sentence marriage amendment to the next General Assembly.
"I've got a weekend now to think about it," Charbonneau said. "As I've done all through the process, I'll try to keep an open mind about this and listen to what goes on. I'm sure there's going to be some healthy discussion on Monday and I look forward to that."
The marriage amendment debate has dominated the 2014 legislative session and even seeped into the Senate's opening prayer Thursday.
The Rev. Andrew Hunt III, of Indianapolis' New Life Christian Church, said lawmakers who fail to defend God's traditions deserve to be cast into the pit of Hell.
Long said he was surprised by the tone and language of the prayer, which prompted several senators to temporarily exit the chamber.
"We have a protocol that nothing political is allowed to be said in a prayer," Long said.
The refusal of the General Assembly to pass the original marriage amendment must be considered a defeat for Republican Gov. Mike Pence.
Despite the governor having no role in the constitutional amendment process, Pence strongly urged lawmakers in his State of the State address to put the marriage amendment on the ballot this year.
A spokeswoman for the governor had no comment on Thursday's Senate action.