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Indiana Constitutional Marriage Ban Advances To Full Senate

The question remains whether an amended version of the proposed amendment will pass the Senate, which would put off a vote until 2016.

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An Indiana Senate committee voted Monday to advance a proposed statewide constitutional ban on marriage for same-sex couples, sending the measure to the full chamber.

The GOP-controlled Senate Rules and Legislative Procedure Committee voted 8-4, or on party lines, to advance the proposed ban — House Joint Resolution 3 — for consideration before members of the full Senate, which could happen as early as later this week.

In its current form, HJR-3 would insert a new line in the Indiana Constitution defining marriage as only one man and one woman.

All four Democrats on the committee voted against the measure, including Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane, who prior to the vote, said "This [proposal] will amend our constitution to discriminate against a group of people …. HJR-3 is an idea whose time has come and gone."

A significant amount of the testimony before the committee, though, involved language that was stripped from the proposed ban when the state House amended and approved it late last month, which would have also banned civil unions and any other arrangements "identical or substantially similar" to marriage.

If the Senate passes the bill as it is currently amended, the soonest it could appear on the ballot for final approval by voters is 2016, according to Freedom Indiana, pending passage by a future legislature. That is so because, according to the Indiana Constitution, proposed amendments to the state's constitution must pass with the same language in both houses of two consecutive elected legislatures before voters can weigh in at the ballot box.

Supporters of the marriage ban hope the Senate will reinstate the original language — not only to prohibit civil unions but also to put the question of the ban back on the path of appearing before voters this November. Reinstating the removed language would make HJR-3 identical to the measure the Indiana Legislature passed in 2011.

Opponents of banning marriage for same-sex couples, including Freedom Indiana, urged the senators to vote against the measure in its entirety — or at least keep out the language banning civil unions and other legal recognition.

"We remain determined to defeat HJR-3, but we are grateful that the committee voted today to keep at bay the extremely dangerous second sentence that would permanently prohibit civil unions, domestic partnerships and other legal protections for same-sex couples," said Megan Robertson, campaign manager at Freedom Indiana, in a statement after the vote.

Indiana state law already defines marriage as between one man and one woman, but proponents of the constitutional ban contend adding the definition to the Constitution would further protect it if challenged in court.