INDIANAPOLIS | Opponents of a possible amendment to the Indiana Constitution prohibiting gay marriage and any "legal status" that's "substantially similar" to marriage believe they have the law on their side -- 614 laws to be precise.
That's the number of times the Indiana Code uses marriage as a way to classify Hoosiers, grant rights or impose responsibilities, according to a report issued Monday by the Indiana University Maurer School of Law.
"What's important about this document is that it highlights how broad the legal institution of marriage is in the law," said Cara Johnson, a law student. "Our goal in this project has been to create an impartial resource that will facilitate discussion on what a constitutional amendment actually involves."
Marriage-related state laws determine who automatically inherits property following a death, who can obtain medical records and how family income is calculated to receive state scholarships, among others. Marriage is also the basis for many of Indiana's conflict-of-interest laws.
Don Sherfick, of Indiana Equality Action, a leading gay rights group, said the proposed amendment's vague language seemingly prohibiting civil unions and possibly even private contracts recognizing same-sex relationships could put all those laws at risk. It would likely lead to hundreds of lawsuits clogging Indiana's already busy courts, as similar amendments have in other states.
"We believe that even those who oppose same-sex marriage will find that denying future lawmakers the ability to determine, as they may see fit, all or some collection of the over-600 provisions listed to Hoosier citizens is unfair and not acceptable," Sherfick said.
Existing Indiana and Illinois law limits marriage to one man and one woman. Last year, however, the Democratic-controlled Illinois Legislature legalized civil unions and agreed to recognize gay marriages performed in other states as valid in Illinois.
In Indiana last year, the Republican-controlled General Assembly approved a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and any "legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals."
The proposed amendment must be approved again by the 2013 or 2014 Indiana General Assembly, which remains controlled by Republicans, for it to go to voters for ratification on the November 2014 ballot.
Richard Sutton, of Indiana Equality Action, said his organization hopes the Legislature won't approve the amendment, but is preparing to campaign against it should the question be put to Hoosier citizens.
"The voters are way ahead of the General Assembly on this," Sutton said. "We're ready for the fight in front of the voters."
Anti-gay marriage amendments were voted down in four states, including Minnesota, earlier this month. Ten states, including Iowa, permit gay marriage.
Among Hoosiers, an Oct. 28-30 poll of likely voters found 48 percent support adding the state's ban on gay marriage to the constitution, while 45 percent oppose the amendment.
Sutton pointed out several large Indiana employers have urged top lawmakers not to push for an anti-gay marriage amendment.
"It's difficult to attract people to Indiana -- they're not coming here for oceans and mountains," Sutton said. "So it's a little more difficult when you lay another set of restrictions on top of our physical location."