A proposed constitutional amendment banning marriage for same-sex couples in Indiana will likely not make it onto the upcoming November ballot after the state's House approved an amendment to the bill Monday, stripping away its controversial second sentence.
"It's a big day for us," said Jennifer Wagner, a spokeswoman for Freedom Indiana, which opposes the proposed marriage ban. "In terms of bigger picture, fighting this and keeping it off the ballot in November, this is a big day. If you had told me six months ago that that they would restart the process like this, I would have said 'no way.'"
The House voted 52-43 to remove the controversial, so-called "second sentence" in the proposed ban's language, which has received criticism from both sides of the aisle. If the General Assembly approves the legislation — House Joint Resolution 3 — as amended, it would not go before voters this November.
As amended, "the soonest it can go on the ballot is 2016," Wagner told BuzzFeed.
Amendments to the Indiana Constitution must be approved by two consecutive legislatures, meaning that if lawmakers pass HJR-3 as it is amended, they will have to pass it again in the next session, according to Freedom Indiana.
The amendment to strike the language was proposed by Rep. Randy Truitt, a Republican from West Lafayette, Ind., who received enough support among his colleagues to pass it in the GOP-controlled House.
During the debate over the amendment, some Republicans expressed concerns over the sentence, which would prohibit any legal relationship that is "identical or substantially similar" to marriage, such as civil unions and domestic partnerships. Opponents of the bill say it jeopardizes health benefits, hospital visitation, and even legal protections currently available to same-sex couples in Indiana, raising several questions about its potential consequences.
"If we in this body cannot understand exactly what this second sentence means, how can we expect millions of Hoosiers to understand?" said Rep. Kevin Mahan (R-Hartford City). "We don't want this turning into a full-time employment opportunity for lawyers."
This comes after Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma reassigned the bill to a more conservative committee to ensure its passage on to the full House — a move opponents of the ban called a "power play" by the Republican majority in the state. Bosma voted against the amendment to the legislation.
"[Bosma] made it clear last week that he wants this to be on the ballot this November," Wagner said. "Many Republicans see the danger of the second sentence. This is a bipartisan sign that if they are going to move it forward, they are going to do it without putting questionable language in the constitution."
The House is expected to consider the HJR-3 as amended as soon as Tuesday. If approved, the bill could travel to the Senate in the coming weeks. The Senate can technically reinstate the second sentence of the bill and the two chambers can confer on the bills language, which would potentially allow it to continue on proponents' path to the November ballot, according to Wagner.
Either way, Freedom Indiana is determined to keep the measure off the ballot this November, she said. "We're not giving up."