Restarting Years-Long Process, Indiana Senate Passes Amended Marriage Ban

The soonest voters could decide on the matter is 2016.

Marriage equality opponents outside the Indiana Statehouse Feb. 13. AP Photo/The Indianapolis Star, Charlie Nye

The Indiana Senate gave final approval Monday to the amended version of a proposed statewide constitutional ban on marriage for same-sex couples, restarting the years-long process that ultimately puts off a voter referendum on the matter until at least 2016.

Even though the measure passed, LGBT advocates at the Freedom Indiana coalition celebrated Monday’s vote as a victory, saying proponents’ plan to put the question before voters this year was thwarted.

“We can finally breathe a collective sigh of relief that lawmakers are finished with the amendment this session, and it will not appear on the ballot this November,” said Megan Robertson, campaign manager at Freedom Indiana.

Lawmakers in the GOP-controlled chamber voted 32-17 on House Joint Resolution 3, which the body advanced to a final reading last week even though it was stripped of language banning civil unions and other similar arrangements by the state’s House — disqualifying the ban from appearing on this November’s ballot.

“We are grateful that the deeply flawed second sentence was removed by the House and kept out by the Senate, and we encourage Hoosiers to thank those lawmakers who showed the courage this session to make sure Indiana didn’t wind up on the wrong side of history,” Robertson said.

The bill’s language differs from the version the General Assembly overwhelmingly passed in 2011, which included the civil unions ban. The Indiana Constitution requires that proposed amendments to the state’s constitution must pass with identical language in both houses of two consecutive elected legislatures before voters can weigh in at the ballot box.

Opponents of the ban considered themselves as “underdogs” in the fight against the GOP-dominated legislature to keep the ban from appearing on the ballot this November.

“When this measure was first voted on in 2011, it sailed through both chambers and would have banned both marriage and any legal relationship recognition for gay couples in Indiana,” said Evan Wolfson, president and founder at Freedom to Marry. “This year, despite an all-out push by the governor and House speaker, the harmful language was scaled back, ensuring that Indiana’s families will not be subjected to a harsh campaign that would add cruel and unconstitutional language to Indiana’s state constitution this November.”

Now, the amended HJR-3 must pass again in 2015 or 2016 by both chambers of the General Assembly before it can appear — at the earliest — on the state’s 2016 ballot, according to Freedom Indiana. If approved by the next legislature and then later by Indiana voters, a single line would be added to the Indiana Constitution defining marriage as only between one man and one woman.

Freedom Indiana and Freedom to Marry plan to keep fighting against the ban in the restarted process.

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