A Columbus legislator found himself in the center of the state’s contentious same-sex marriage debate last week.
Political wrangling in the Indiana House of Representatives abruptly moved the measure to the House Elections and Apportionment Committee, chaired by Republican Milo Smith.
Smith is confident his committee made the correct decision Wednesday when moving the same-sex marriage amendment forward at the Statehouse.
That put it one step closer to a November referendum in which voters would decide whether language should be added to the Indiana Constitution allowing marriage to only be between a man and a woman.
“Every year, a bill is filed on this; it’s voted on, discussed and dies in committee,” said Smith, who has spent eight years in the Indiana House representing Bartholomew County. “This doesn’t change the definition of marriage. All it does is put it in the Constitution, and it’s less likely a judge could change it. We just want to allow voters to vote on it.”
This year’s version has polarized many Hoosiers — those who support the traditional view of marriage versus those who warn that intolerance will harm the state’s image.
House Joint Resolution 3 defines marriage as between a man and a woman. House Bill 1153 explains the legislative intent of the resolution.
While state law already defines marriage as between a man and a woman, it is not constitutionally protected, according to supporters of the amendment.
Eventually putting the language into the Constitution first required that these measures to be approved in a House committee, a place where the same-sex amendment has failed before, Smith said.
Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma moved the resolution and bill from the House Judiciary Committee, where he didn’t have enough votes for it to pass, to the elections committee, where he did.
That put Smith at the podium for almost five hours Wednesday night, attempting to rein in disrespectful behavior and keep things civil.
“Regardless of how I feel, and this was difficult to convey to everyone, I wanted everyone to be civil and respectful of everyone’s opinion,” he said.
Smith told those assembled who wished to testify before the committee that there was to be no booing and no cheering.
He asked for respect, not only for those who were speaking, but for the institution of the Indiana House of Representatives.
At one point, Smith ordered a spectator to be removed from the committee hearing for not being respectful of speakers by making the thumbs-down gesture.
“That’s not like me,” Smith said of having the spectator removed. “But it was disrespectful to the person who was speaking. And it was disrespectful to the institution, to the process.”
Smith said if the resolution is put on Indiana’s ballot in the fall, he will vote for adding the definition of marriage as one man and one woman to the Constitution.
The committee’s ranking Democratic member, Rep. John L. Bartlett,
D-Indianapolis, described having the issue dropped into the committee as “something that should have been
The Elections Committee was notified at 2 p.m. Tuesday it would hear the resolution at 3 p.m. the next day, and that was not enough time to fully prepare, Bartlett said.
Most committee members did not hear any of the earlier original testimony in the Judiciary Committee because they were busy with other hearings,
Bartlett said the issue should have stayed in the judiciary committee because members there are lawyers and are familiar with constitutional law.
“It was brought to a group of lay people (the Elections Committee) who were not prepared for it,” he said.
After receiving four to five books of written material at Wednesday’s hearing and listening to hours of testimony, Bartlett asked that the committee vote be delayed until Monday. But Smith denied that request, which is within his power as chairman, Bartlett said.
“We had to make a real uninformed decision,” Bartlett said. “I’m a Democrat. The Republican Party is always talking about less government. We have a law on the books that says marriage is between one man and one woman. This (resolution) is just trouble waiting to happen. The Constitution should afford people’s rights, not limit them.”
Once the testimony concluded, the Elections Committee voted 9-3, along party-lines, to move the resolution and bill out of committee and to the House floor.
As a personal aside, Bartlett said he considered his faith and religious teaching in voting against the resolution. He said he believes God will judge us all, and that no one is assigned here on earth to judge anyone else.
“I’m not for or against homosexuality,” Bartlett said. “Marriage is a legal contract between two people. You may go to church to get married, but to dissolve that, you have to go to a court. It’s a legal decision.”
On Thursday, the House voted 67-30 to accept the bill, also along party lines, setting up a floor debate.
Smith said there might be amendments proposed to the resolution, but they are unlikely to succeed because the majority of lawmakers want the referendum. They also want the Hoosier electorate to make a decision about how marriage is defined here, he said.
“Let’s send it to the constituents and let them tell us what they believe,” he said.