INDIANAPOLIS — The success of a sparsely-worded constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage could hinge on whether lawmakers remove a key sentence expanding its reach, House and Senate Republican leaders said Tuesday.
The battle over gay marriage is expected to dominate the upcoming 2014 session. The state already has a law banning same-sex marriage, but some gay marriage opponents are concerned that a judge could overturn the law, so they want it enshrined in the state constitution.
The proposed amendment, if passed, would restrict marriage to being between a man and woman. But it would also further restrict the rights of same-sex couples and ban lawmakers from reconsidering the issue in the future. Those additional restrictions, which are in the second sentence of the proposed amendment, have drawn increasing concern from lawmakers.
House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said Tuesday it might be possible to delete those additional restrictions while still sending the amendment to voters next November. But Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said legislative lawyers have advised him that an altered amendment would likely restart the state's lengthy process for altering its constitution.
Constitutional amendments must be approved in two consecutive biennial sessions of the General Assembly and then be placed on the ballot. Lawmakers have already approved the proposed gay marriage ban once but would have to do so again before it could be put to voters.
"What we've heard from (the Legislative Services Agency) is if we do that, it's likely it would not hold up in court. If we send it to the public in the fall, amended, it could be on very shaky ground," Long said.
"Why would we send something to the public we knew could be challenged in the court as unconstitutional?" he said.
The timing and strategy of dealing with the issue have become increasingly important questions. Long said Tuesday he plans to wait for the House to approve the amendment before taking up the issue in the Senate.
House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, and Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, both asked Bosma and Long to put off the issue for next session. They said lawmakers should focus more on economic growth and job-creation measures during the session. But Bosma has said he plans to press forward with the issue.
The ongoing debate among top lawmakers came as activists filled the Statehouse for "Organization Day", a one-day meeting typically filled with procedural and organizational matters. Volunteers with Freedom Indiana, which is opposing the amendment, spent the day talking with lawmakers.
Phil Cooper, 63, a retired bus driver from Bloomington, said he is driven in part by his daughter, who is gay. He noted that the Pledge of Allegiance ends with the words "with liberty and justice for all."
"My question for everybody is, 'Do we mean it, or do we just say it?'" he said.