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Ind. House Democrats weigh two plans to derail proposed gay marriage ban

Saturday, January 25, 2014
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Indiana state capitol in Indianapolis.

Indiana state capitol in Indianapolis.

INDIANAPOLIS — House Democrats will consider two different strategies to derail the effort to place a same-sex marriage ban in the Indiana Constitution, House Minority Leader Scott Pelath said Friday.

The House Elections and Apportionment Committee set the stage for a battle over the proposed constitutional amendment earlier this week when it voted 9-3 along party lines to send the measure to the House of Representatives. The House could open debate on the proposed ban, titled House Joint Resolution 3 or HJR 3, and consider amendments to it as soon as Monday.

House Democrats – a potentially powerful minority – will look at either amending the proposal or letting the measure be voted down, said Pelath, D-Michigan City.

Pelath said he has prepared an amendment that would remove the so-called “second sentence” of the proposed ban, which bans civil unions in addition to gay marriage.

“Whether I offer this amendment is a decision I am going to have to make in consultation with our caucus members, but the goal is the same: Let’s get (the ban) set aside,” he said.

The second sentence is a sticking point for many lawmakers, including some who have said they otherwise support banning gay marriage. Opponents have focused their efforts on striking the language, arguing it could go so far as barring employers from offering benefits to same-sex couples – a charge supporters of the measure deny.

“If they’re going to insist on moving this thing forward, let’s at least get that monstrous language out of there,” Pelath said.

Removing the sentence could also reset the clock on the state’s lengthy constitutional amendment process, pushing back a public vote on the issue to 2016.

Lawmakers must approve any amendment in two consecutive two-year sessions, then send an amendment to voters for approval. The General Assembly first approved the constitutional ban in 2011 and would have to sign off on it a s econd time this session to send it to voters this November. But altering the language of the amendment would most likely restart the process.

The second approach would be “simply letting HJR 3 die under its own lumbering, brontosaurus-like weight,” Pelath added.

Pelath’s announcement came as Senate leaders announced preparations for the gay marriage fight. The focus through the start of the session has been squarely on the House, but HJR 3 cleared a major hurdle with the successful House committee vote and greatly increased the chances of advancing the measure to the GOP-controlled Senate.

If House lawmakers approve the measure, it would head toward a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee next month, Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said Friday.

“I do think it should be on the full floor of the House and Senate for full discussion. It’s an important issue, and it’s one that’s gotten an amazing amount of attention from media and s tatewide and Hoosiers everywhere,” Long said. “I think it deserves a full debate.”

House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, raised howls from opponents this past week after he dislodged HJR 3 from the House Judiciary Committee, where it appeared likely to die, and placed it in the more conservative House elections committee.

Indiana is one of a handful of states that bans gay marriage in statute but not in its constitution. Supporters of the constitutional amendment say it is needed to stop a state judge from potentially overturning the existing ban.

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