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Ind. marriage amend. blocked in committee

INDIANAPOLIS (BP)–A proposed constitutional marriage amendment in Indiana may be dead after a key House committee deadlocked in a vote March 3.

The 5-5 vote by the House Rules Committee prevents the amendment from going to the full body, where passage would have put it on the 2008 ballot. Voting for it were four Republicans and one Democrat. All the “no” votes came from Democrats.

The amendment would have protected the natural definition of marriage and also prohibited Vermont-style civil unions.

“I think it’s safe to say this will be back next session,” state Rep. Dennie Oxley, the only Democrat to support the proposal, said, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal.

It was a disappointing day for amendment supporters, who were optimistic about their chances just weeks ago. But concern over the amendment’s second sentence — the one prohibiting civil unions — derailed the proposal. The amendment could still appear on the ’08 ballot if it passes the House between now and early next year. If it doesn’t pass by then, it wouldn’t be able to appear on the ballot again until 2010.

Amending the constitution in Indiana is a lengthy process, requiring passage in two consecutive legislative sessions and then approval by voters. The amendment passed both the House and Senate in 2005, and the Senate again this year. But because Democrats won back the House in November, the amendment this go-round faced additional scrutiny. Republicans controlled the House in ’05 and the Senate both times it passed in that chamber.

The second sentence of the amendment prevents “marital status or the legal incidents of marriage” from being conferred upon “unmarried couples or groups.” Supporters say the wording is needed to prohibit what they call “fake marriages” — that is, state-sponsored civil unions or domestic partnerships, both of which grant homosexual couples the legal benefits of marriage. Without that specific wording, supporters say, a court could legalize civil unions under another name.

A majority of states — 27 — have passed marriage amendments, with some of them adopting language similar to the second sentence of Indiana’s amendment. Even the federal Marriage Protection Amendment that was defeated twice in the U.S. Congress included a clause saying courts could not grant the “legal incidents” of marriage to anything other than a traditional marital relationship.

But opponents of the Indiana amendment charged it could threaten domestic partner benefits at colleges and private businesses, as well as jeopardize domestic violence laws. Some companies, including pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, publicly opposed the amendment, saying it could hurt their ability to recruit employees.

“I believe that marriage should be between one man and one woman. I’ve said that many times,” committee chairman Scott Pelath, a Democrat who opposed the amendment, was quoted as saying in the Courier-Journal. “I’m mostly concerned about putting things in the constitution I don’t feel we understand absolutely what they do.”

The amendment passed the Senate 39-10 this year and 42-8 the first time. It passed the House 76-23 in 2005.

Conservatives criticized House Speaker Patrick Bauer, who during the campaign last year promised his chamber would vote on a marriage amendment if Democrats took control. Family Research Council Action, which supports the amendment, ran a full-page ad in the South Bend Tribune — Bauer’s hometown — urging him to “let the people of Indiana vote.” It quoted Bauer as saying last year, “If I am elected Speaker of the Indiana House after the November 7 general election, I will allow committee meetings, floor debate and a final vote in that chamber on a constitutional amendment to prohibit gay marriages in Indiana.”

Just days before the committee vote, Bauer said he opposed the amendment’s second sentence.

“Speaker Bauer orchestrated this today, because he knew if all 100 representatives voted on it, the vast majority would have supported it just as they did in 2005,” Eric Miller, founder of Advance America, said, according to The Indianapolis Star. “The defeat today of this amendment lies squarely at the feet of Speaker Bauer.”

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said the amendment failed in the committee “despite Bauer’s promise that the full House would be given an opportunity to vote.”

“As Indiana’s pro-family leaders regroup, we urge citizens across the state to encourage Speaker Bauer to revive the proposal — before time runs out,” Perkins said in his daily e-mail.

According to The Star, the five representatives who voted against the amendment were Terri J. Austin, Anderson, Ind.; Earl Harris, East Chicago; Bob Kuzman, Crown Point; Scott Pelath, Michigan City; and Russ Stilwell, Boonville.
Compiled by Michael Foust

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