INDIANAPOLIS (BP)–A constitutional marriage amendment in Indiana is only one step away from making the 2008 ballot, but a handful of prominent legislators are threatening to derail it.
Amending the constitution is a lengthy process under Indiana law, requiring passage in two consecutive sessions of the legislature and support by a majority of voters. The amendment passed the state House and Senate in 2005, and the Senate again this year. It now needs to pass the House once more, although that is looking increasingly iffy.
Democrats won back the House in November, and some leaders of the party are leaving open the possibility the amendment could be tweaked — something that would place the amendment back at square one. If that happens, the amendment won’t appear on the ballot until 2010 at the earliest.
At issue is the second sentence of the amendment, which prevents the “legal incidents of marriage” being conferred upon “unmarried couples or groups.” The language is aimed at prohibiting the legalization of Vermont-style civil unions or California-style domestic partnerships. Other states have adopted nearly identical language.
Opponents say the amendment’s second sentence could threaten domestic partner benefits at businesses.
During a House Rules Committee hearing, chairman Scott Pelath, a Democrat, left the door open on the possibility the second sentence could be changed or stripped altogether.
“I can tell you that we are going to deal with this issue in one way or another, in one form or another,” Pelath said, according to the Associated Press.
Such ambiguity has frustrated conservatives, who believed they had a pre-election pledge from Democratic House Speaker Patrick Bauer that he would allow a vote on the amendment as worded. Bauer and his fellow Democrats lost the House in 2004 in part because they blocked a vote on the amendment; Republicans successfully campaigned on the issue that year.
Family Research Council Action, which supports the amendment, sent out a statement March 27 saying Bauer had “reneged on his campaign promise.” The group also said as much in 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.”
“Marriage is the cornerstone of the family and the family is the cornerstone of society,” Connie Mackey of FRC Action said in a statement. “… To obstruct the citizens of Indiana from voting on something so foundational and fundamental to society is undemocratic.”
Roughly 1,000 people rallied at the capitol building March 27 urging passage of the amendment.
“We’re so close. We’re within one floor vote before the House of Representatives from letting the people of Indiana make a decision on this amendment,” Eric Miller, president of the conservative group Advance America, said, according to The Indianapolis Star. “To not let that happen would be a tragedy.”
Even Indianapolis Colts Coach Tony Dungy has gotten in the mix, saying that when people ask him which side he’s on in the “issue of same-sex marriage,” he responds, “I’m not on anybody’s side. I’m on the Lord’s side.” Dungy made the comments during a speech at the Indiana Family Institute banquet. IFI is affiliated with Focus on the Family.
“IFI is saying what the Lord says,” Dungy said. “You can take that and you can make your decision which way you want to be. I’m on the Lord’s side and appreciate IFI for the stance they’re taking and I embrace that stance.”
The amendment passed the Senate 39-10 this year and 42-8 the first time. It passed the House 76-23 in 2005. A majority of states (27) already have a marriage amendment.
The amendment is S.J.R. 7.
N.J. COUPLE RECEIVES LICENSE — One of the couples that unsuccessfully sued for “gay marriage” legalization in New Jersey received a civil union license March 27, the Associated Press reported.
Saundra Toby-Heath, 53, and Alicia Heath-Toby, 44, picked up their license at the Newark City Hall.
“It was a very nice morning,” Saundra Toby-Heath told AP, “a lot different from the first time when we went almost five years ago.”
Last October the New Jersey Supreme Court refused to legalize “gay marriage” and instead ordered the legislature to grant homosexual couples the legal benefits of marriage. Legislators subsequently legalized civil unions.
N.C. DEMOCRATIC LEADERS UNMOVED — Approximately 10,000 supporters of a proposed marriage amendment rallied in Raleigh, N.C., March 6, urging the legislature to send the proposal to voters. However, leaders of the Democratic-controlled House and Senate said they remained unmoved and still oppose an amendment.
“Gay marriage is not allowed in this state, so there’s no need to change the constitution,” Senate leader Marc Basnight told The News & Observer. “The constitution is not the place to make law. If so, every interest group would want their issue embedded in the constitution.”
Said House Speaker Joe Hackney, “I think North Carolina law is very clear that a marriage is between a man and a woman, and I don’t know why there’s a question about that.”
Amendment supporters, though, note that “gay marriage” previously was illegal in Massachusetts — before that state’s high court struck down state law and legalized it.
“I have confidence in the people,” Republican state Sen. Fred Smith said at the March 6 rally. “The group that doesn’t have confidence in the people is the power structure here who refuses to let the people vote.”