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Ind. Attorney General fielding questions on proposed same-sex marriage ban

INDIANAPOLIS — The chief counsel for Indiana state officials said Friday he has been fielding a lot of questions about placing the state’s same-sex marriage ban in the constitution.

The Indiana General Assembly is set to take up a proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, civil unions and benefits for same-sex couples when it returns next month.

Greg Zoeller
Greg Zoeller

Attorney General Greg Zoeller said he’s heard numerous questions from lawmakers support the ban as well as those opposed to the measure.

Zoeller said Friday he could not divulge details of those conversations because of attorney-client privilege, but said he’s been hearing extensively from both sides of the issue.

“We have to give honest legal views on how those cases might impact (Indiana), but it is a very volatile area of the law, particularly when it comes to federal cases that would be as applicable in Indiana as they would in states like Ohio or Utah,” he said.

Zoeller represents state lawmakers and other state officials in court and often provides legal advice.

Indiana’s battle comes shortly after three separate federal court rulings earlier this month overturned marriage bans in New Mexico, Ohio and Utah. Indiana is among a handful of states to limit marriage to being between one man and woman by statute, but not through its constitution.

Opponents of the amendment say it will drive away business, as national attitudes shift more in favor of gay marriage. Supporters of the constitutional amendment say it would protect against an Indiana judge overturning the state ban and also argue Indiana voters should have a say on the issue.

In order to be placed in the constitution, the measure must win approval in two consecutive two-year sessions of the General Assembly and then win approval from Indiana voters. Lawmakers from both parties overwhelmingly supported the amendment on its first vote in 2011, but a shifting national tide a nd well-funded effort by amendment opponents has raised new questions about whether the measure would clear the Legislature a second time.

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One alternative that has been floated is removing the so-called “second sentence” in the amendment, which extends the ban to civil unions and employer benefits. But legislative leaders are split on whether altering the language would reset the clock on the state’s lengthy constitutional amendment process.

Zoeller said Friday he had looked into the issue but could not find a clear precedent.

“There hasn’t been a case directly on point,” he said. “So had there been a question asked and answered, I’d be able to point to something specifically for people to refer to. The fact that it has not been fully addressed leaves it open to supposition as to what a federal court might do or what a state court might do.”

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