The Indiana legislature may be on its way to passing a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage after its House of Representatives approved such a proposal Tuesday. The proposal leaves the possibility of civil unions and benefits to same-sex employees open in the future.
The legislation, House Joint Resolution 3, passed the state's House of Representatives Tuesday with a slim 57 to 40 vote. All of those who approved the ban were Republican, while 11 Republicans and all Democratic House members voted in opposition to the ban. Same-sex marriage is already illegal in Indiana, but HJR-3 would define marriage as being between one man and one woman in the state's constitution.
In the past few weeks, Indiana's legislature has seen intense debate over HJR-3 due to the second sentence of the proposal, which bans the possibility of civil unions among gay couples by stating: "a legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized." Those opposed to the original text of the bill argued that this sentence could also possibly prevent employers from offering benefits, such as insurance, to their same-sex employees.
Lawmakers reportedly debated over the proposal's second sentence while in session Tuesday, ultimately deciding to remove the second sentence and move forward with the bill, thus allowing the possibility of same-sex civil unions in the state. Those in favor of the bill opposed its alteration, arguing that changing the text of the bill could mean the earliest the bill appears on a voter ballot is November 2016. This is because the state's constitutional amendment process requires an amendment to be approved in two consecutive legislative sessions by Indiana's General Assembly before it can be considered by voters.
Rep. Eric Turner (R-Cicero) attempted to dissuade lawmakers from changing the bill's text on Tuesday, saying, "I believe [House Joint Resolution 3] as written is the right public policy for the state … The second sentence simply prevents marriage under another name." Turner is the author of the proposal.
Ultimately, Turner said in a statement that the issue of same-sex marriage will be decided by Indiana voters. "The future of marriage belongs in the hands of Hoosier voters; not judges, not the media, not activists, not lobbyists."
Those opposed to HJR-3 see the vote that took place Tuesday as a hopeful sign that the bill may have more trouble passing state Senate. Indianapolis resident Norman Sider, who attended Tuesday's House meeting, told The Associated Press that he hopes more Republicans will continue to vote against the bill. "This is just the beginning, but it was a successful beginning. How this will turn out? I don't know. But I would hope that both [House and Senate], when they have a chance to vote, will again be very bipartisan."
Despite Tuesday's heated debate and bill alteration, the Senate could choose to vote on the original text of the bill once it arrives at their chamber. Indiana's Senate President Pro Tem David Long (R-Fort Wayne) told The Journal Gazette that his chamber will likely debate the revised proposal, not its original text.
"I think we probably would honor the version that comes over from the House ... a reverse could happen. It's really up to the will of the senators here, and it will be their decision, Republican and Democrat."