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Hot-Button Issues: Big Fat Gay Marriage Debate

Are Indiana legislators ready to tie the knot on an amendment banning same-sex nuptials?

Editor's Note: From gay marriage to Glenda Ritz, Obamacare to Sunday booze, we're presenting 10 topics that Hoosiers will be fired up about this year—and what you need to know before jumping into heated cocktail-party discussions. See the full list here.


The Skinny

If weddings are a time for celebration, then wedding legislation is an occasion for bloodletting matched only, perhaps, by the reign of Henry VIII. In 2011, state reps broke then-lame-duck governor Mitch Daniels’s called “truce” on social issues with House Joint Resolution 6, a proposed constitutional amendment that would bar same-sex marriage and, in effect, prohibit Indiana from granting or recognizing civil unions. The General Assembly and HJR-6 proved a match made in heaven, with initial approval coming on votes of 70-26 in the House and 40-10 in the Senate—over the loud (if insufficient) cries of progressive groups such as the Indiana Stonewall Democrats, who took to calling it “The Marriage Discrimination Act.” Having cleared the first hurdle in the amendment process, the measure must win simple majorities in both chambers again this year before the question is popped to Hoosier voters in an election-day referendum. Let the pots and pans fly.

"I Do"

Proponents of the bill, now named HJR-3, argue that it would strengthen the institution of traditional marriage and that Hoosier voters should decide the question instead of ceding such power to unelected federal judges.

"I Don't"

Opponents point out that the constitution already defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman, and call the amendment one of the most draconian in the country (when other states, notably Illinois, are moving in the other direction). Some fear it would weaken Indiana’s ability to attract business and talent.

The Players

Rep. Eric Turner, R-Cicero, who authored HJR-3 in both its previous and current forms ... Curt Smith of the Indiana Family Institute, Eric Miller of Advance America, and Micah Clark of the American Family Association of Indiana, who back the amendment … Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R–Fort Wayne, and House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, pledged to take up the measure quickly but later called it a low priority … John Thompson, chair of the Indy Chamber’s board of directors, has said the amendment would weaken Indiana’s economic competitiveness … Lobbyist Megan Robertson, a former campaign staffer for two Republican U.S. senators, who manages the Freedom Indiana campaign, a well-funded opposition coalition.

                    

Players: (l-r) Clark, Robertson, Turner


When It Will Go Down

On Jan. 9, backers of HJR-6 changed its name to HJR-3 and introduced a companion bill intended to address concerns raised by some of the proposed amendment's vague language. Debate began Jan. 13 and will likely continue through the legislative session. If the measure passes the Assembly, expect some noise in the lead-up to a referendum in the November general election. 

The Upper Hand

While the resolution formerly known as HJR-6 received widespread support from legislators in 2011, the honeymoon might be over. Freedom Indiana’s partners include clergy, Indiana University, and big corporate employers like Eli Lilly, Cummins, and Emmis Communications (IM’s parent company); Mary Cheney, daughter of the former Republican vice president, agreed to host a December fundraiser in Indianapolis. A poll released by the group in September showed that 64 percent of Hoosier voters opposed addressing same-sex marriage with an amendment.

Annulment?

In November, Bosma floated the possibility that lawmakers could change some of the language; because amendments require two separately elected legislatures to approve identical measures before a referendum can occur, a revision would have allowed the Assembly to kick the can down the road (or, if you like, drag it off into the sunset behind a slow-moving vehicle). What they did instead—tacking on a bill several times longer than the original proposed amendment—might help it win passage, but could also make it more susceptible to legal challenges.

Follow Along

@AFAofIndiana / @Freedom_Indiana / @BarbBerg

A version of this article appeared in the January 2014 issue. Reporting by IM writer-at-large Michael Rubino.