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Opinions split on marriage proposal

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Columbus area legislators say they’re not sure if the proposed anti-gay marriage amendment will make it through the General Assembly this session.

A House committee vote hasn’t been scheduled yet. Opinions so far are split.

State Rep. Sean Eberhart, R-Shelbyville, said he doesn’t plan to support the proposal to seek a same-sex marriage ban in the state constitution.

“The marriage amendment is such a low priority and not something the government should be doing,” he said.

But State Rep. Milo Smith, R-Columbus, thinks the proposal to allow voters to decide the fate of the constitutional amendment at the polls in November will squeak out of the House Judiciary Committee, pass the House, win approval in the Senate and be signed by Gov. Mike Pence.

“I believe the votes are there to pass it,” said Smith, who said he personally believes marriage should only be between one man and one woman.

Supporters of the amendment have crafted a companion bill — House Bill 1153 — designed to calm concerns that the gay-marriage ban also would stop corporations from granting employee benefits to same-sex partners or have other unintended consequences.

Some opponents have blasted the companion bill as ill-advised and at odds with the main proposal to put gay marriage up to a public vote via the state constitution.

Sen. Greg Walker, R-Columbus, said the companion bill holds the potential to muddy the waters and complicate any future legal defense of the Indiana Constitution’s stance on gay marriage if it’s challenged in federal court.

“The governor has said he’d like to settle this once and for all, but I doubt whatever we do that it will be for once and all,” Walker said, pointing to an almost certain legal challenge by gay rights proponents if the constitutional amendment ends up as law.

Walker said it’s anyone’s guess whether the constitutional amendment passes the full General Assembly.

“I can’t answer what the House intends to do. My guess would be that it does come out of the committee. But the additional accompanying bill raises as many questions as it answers right now,” he said.

Walker said he hasn’t decided how he’d vote if the measure comes before the Senate.

Opposition to the amendment has been increasing as a national spotlight gets cast on Indiana.

Smith said he applauds the concept advanced by House Bill 1153 to provide guidance to the public and courts about what the General Assembly wants to achieve and what it doesn’t want to change in terms of corporate benefits, wills, anti-discrimination local ordinances and other issues.

“Our constituents deserve a chance to vote on the amendment in November, and I think the companion bill helps people understand it,” Smith said. “We ought to consider explaining our intent with every piece of legislation coming out of the General Assembly.”

Walker said he expects the same-sex marriage issue eventually to end up in court.

“There are a lot of moving parts at the state and federal levels on this,” he said.

Walker said he is in favor of the concept of marriage being only between a man and a woman, but that doesn’t mean he’ll vote for the marriage ban amendment and HB 1153.

A lot depends on the final wording “and my understanding of it,” he said.

Walker said Pence, in effect, soft pedaled his anti-gay marriage views in last week’s State of the State address. But Walker said he believes the governor still wants a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

“I have long held the view that the people, rather than unelected judges, should decide matters of such great consequence to the society,” Pence said in the speech.

“The governor supports traditional marriage, and that’s my preference, too,” Walker said. “I see the merits that traditional marriage has for children in homes with moms and dads. Men and women bring different skills to the marriage, and the social sciences definitely prove that children raised by moms and dads have a better chance of success.”

State Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, declined to say how he will vote on the measures.

“I’m glad we’re taking time to get it right; it’s a very important issue,” Lucas said. “On one side, we have people’s religious beliefs; and on the other, we have a valid concern for individual liberty.

“I personally believe that marriage is between a man and a woman, but those are religious beliefs for me. I’m also a very limited-government type person. Is it the role of government to start legislating morality? Should we tell people how to live their lives if they’re harming no one?”

Lucas said he wonders if it’s right to open the door of allowing government to make a “religious decision” for all.

“Where does that end? Can (government) come into my church one day?” he asked. “Obviously, emotions are running high on both sides.”

Indiana already bans gay marriage in state law, but supporters of the constitutional amendment say such a tactic would strengthen the ban against later court challenges. If approved by lawmakers, the measure would go on the ballot for a statewide vote in November.

Seventeen states plus the District of Columbia recognize same-sex marriage at this point, while 33 states have banned it by statute, through state constitutional amendments or both.

The U.S. Supreme Court made two major rulings on gay marriage last year.

One struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, a federal law that denied federal benefits to legally married same-sex couples. The other paved the way for gay marriages to resume in California.

Indiana’s proposal to amend the state constitution would define marriage as between one man and one woman and add that “a legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized.”

Critics have said the latter sentence could spark the repeal of anti-discrimination local ordinances and block private companies from providing domestic partnership benefits to same-sex couples.

Officials with Cummins Inc., the Columbus-based engine maker that employs about 7,000 people in central Indiana and 46,000 internationally,

has come out against the proposed constitutional amendment as discriminatory.

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