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Ind. amendment supporters not quitting

INDIANAPOLIS (BP)–Supporters of a proposed constitutional marriage amendment in Indiana may have lost a key committee vote March 3, but they’re not giving up in their quest to see it placed on the ballot in 2008.

Passage would have sent it to the House, where it almost certainly would have passed, therefore putting it before voters. Instead, it was blocked on a 5-5 vote. The Senate had already OK’d it.

Indiana Family Action — one of the amendment’s top backers — is embarking on what is calls an “eight-month plan” to keep the issue before the public and pressure the House to pass the amendment when members reconvene in January. If it doesn’t pass the House before the House ends the session around March of next year, it will die.

Every House member is up for re-election in November 2008 — something amendment supporters plan on taking advantage of.

“… (We want) to keep citizens active and involved and aware and to keep the pressure on their elected officials,” Sue Swayze, executive director of Indiana Family Action, told Baptist Press. “… We want to keep the spotlight on them, so that they don’t believe we’re going away.”

Amendment supporters have a sense of urgency because the amending process in Indiana is quite lengthy, requiring passage in two consecutive sessions and approval by voters. The amendment passed both chambers easily in 2005. If it doesn’t pass the House next year — during the final days of this session — then the process will have to be restarted, and it wouldn’t appear on the ballot until 2010 at the earliest.

“We’ll have a consistent and a persistent strategy to keep the issue alive and go into next session with an expectation,” Swayze said.

Twenty-seven states already have adopted marriage amendments, and Indiana appeared ready to join that group until Democrats won control of the House in November, allowing new Speaker Patrick Bauer — who opposes the amendment — to have a hand in the matter, amendment supporters say. Swayze and others say Bauer, during the fall campaign, promised a floor vote. That was significant because in 2004, Bauer and the Democrats lost the House, in part because they had blocked a marriage amendment.

“We have a quote (from Bauer last fall) where he promised a floor vote,” Swayze said. “He did break a promise.”

The first sentence of the amendment is designed to prohibit “gay marriage” while the second sentence is written to prevent state courts from legalizing Vermont-style civil unions. It is that second sentence that opponents targeted, saying it could threaten domestic partner benefits at colleges and private businesses and jeopardize domestic violence laws.

“It was much ado about nothing,” Swayze said. “… They hid behind the second sentence.”

By doing that “they could still go on record” as saying they “support a marriage between a man and a woman.”

The text of the second sentence of the amendment prevents “marital status or the legal incidents of marriage” from being conferred upon “unmarried couples or groups.” Other states have nearly identical language in their amendments. Swayze said the amendment would not have had the negative impact opponents claimed it would.

“(Under the amendment) an activist judge could not require a company to provide benefits,” she said. “… It did not mean that the legislature could not someday create civil unions or other kinds of things like that. The theory of this particular amendment was that if there’s going to be stuff like that, we want our legislature to make those decisions — we don’t want an activist judge doing it.”

Within days of the vote in the House Rules Committee, Indiana Family Action ran a newspaper advertisement in the district of state Rep. Terri J. Austin, an Anderson, Ind., Democrat, who amendment supporters say backed the proposal during the campaign. The ad, Swayze said, reminded “her voters, her constituents, that she broke her promise.” The organization also has aired some radio ads throughout the state.

The amendment passed the Senate 39-10 this year and 42-8 in that body the first time in 2005. It passed the House 76-23 in ’05. Swayze said the votes are there to pass it in the House this time — if it gets to the floor.

“There is no doubt in my mind that it does (have the votes) and that is why it didn’t get out of committee,” she said.

Four Republicans and one Democrat supported the amendment. Opposing it were the following Democrats: Terri J. Austin, Anderson, Ind.; Earl Harris, East Chicago; Bob Kuzman, Crown Point; Scott Pelath, Michigan City; and Russ Stilwell, Boonville.

Indiana state representatives can be reached through traditional mail at: Indiana House of Representatives; 200 W. Washington St.; Indianapolis, IN 46204. Indiana residents can call them through the switchboard at 1-800-382-9842. They can be e-mailed through the Indiana House Democrats webpage at www.ai.org/legislative/house_democrats/members.html (by clicking on the representative’s name and then “contact me”).

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  • Michael Foust