An Indiana House committee voted Wednesday to advance a proposed constitutional amendment that would ban marriage for same-sex couples — a day after the GOP leader of the House suddenly yanked the measure from a committee where it was likely expected to fail.
The Elections and Apportionment Committee of the Indiana House passed the measure, House Joint Resolution 3, in a 9-3 vote along with a companion bill that secured the same vote. One Democratic lawmaker, Rep. Terry Goodin, was excused due to a medical emergency and did not vote.
The vote brings the proposed amendment one step closer to appearing on the upcoming November ballot, where Indiana voters would be asked to approve or disapprove adding it to the state's constitution — a debate that has transpired in Indiana for several years.
The vote comes after a highly unusual move Tuesday by House Speaker Brian Bosma, the Republican majority leader, who placed the pieces legislation before what is seen as a more conservative committee after it became clear they would stall or fail before the previous panel where they were considered last week. Critics, such as Freedom Indiana Campaign Manager Megan Robertson, called it a "power play" and accused Bosma of violating the "traditional legislative process" to force the bill forward.
During debate over the bills Wednesday, the committee's Republican chairman, Rep. Milo Smith, said Bosma reassigned them to "get it out of committee and to the full floor for more debate."
"We're disappointed, but we're more disappointed in the jury-rigged process than the outcome today," Robertson said. "The traditional legislative path for this divisive amendment was completely upended when Speaker Bosma decided he had to switch committees to shore up enough Republican votes to move it to the floor."
However, Bosma's need to place the bills before a more conservative committee may suggest the proposed amendment will face a tougher battle when considered by the full House, according to House Democratic Leader Scott Pelath.
"Given that the Speaker had trouble getting the votes out of the very committee that he sent the measure to, I don't think anything is a guarantee at this point," Pelath told BuzzFeed prior to Wednesday's vote. "Ordinarily, if the Speaker has a bill he wants passed, he sends it to a committee where he knows it will pass and if he puts it on the floor, he knows it's going to pass. He's not trying to set it up to fail, but clearly there is a lot of hesitation among our more pragmatic counterparts across the aisle."
Robertson and advocates in the Freedom Indiana coalition promised to continue fighting to derail the legislation and said their efforts "are not deterred" by the committee's vote. The coalition anticipates the full House will take up the matter on Monday.
The proposed amendment already passed with overwhelming support in both the Indiana House and Senate in 2011 under the title HJR 6, but must be approved by both chambers a second time before it is put on the ballot.
Specifically, it would add a new section to the state's constitution reading, "Only a marriage between one (1) man and one (1) woman shall be valid or recognized as marriage in Indiana. A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized."
The companion bill, House Bill 1153, was added to clarify the language of the second line so as not to interfere with benefits provided by employers in the state and the ability of municipalities to enact non-discrimination ordinances, proponents said. Opponents say it is not clear enough and simply makes the affect of the amendment more confusing.
Indiana is one of four states without either marriage equality or a constitutional amendment banning same-sex couples from marrying but that does have a statute defining marriage as only between one man and one woman. Proponents of the measure, such as its author, Rep. P Eric Turner, said adding the amendment language to the state's constitution further protects it from being struck down in court.
"Indiana is one of those states at risk [of a court ruling] because we only have a statute and not constitutional protection," Turner said before the committee. "We've been debating this since 2004; it's time to put this debate to rest and allow Hoosier voters to decide."
If the bill fails this session, it would not be able to appear on a ballot until 2017. But proponents could instead amend the legislation and pass it again, which would place it on the ballot in the 2016 elections, according to Freedom Indiana.